‘Algorithms are no match for human intelligence, especially when it comes to natural language’ – Education Technology

There are of course many pros; advancements in machine translation have made languages more rapidly accessible to people everywhere, bridging the gap of understanding between humans via technology – all at the click of a button. Digital tools also transform learning and teaching for millions worldwide, whether it’s free access to high quality digital resources, or optimising the time spent with a teacher to focus on active learning, rather than passive knowledge transmission.

“Advancements in machine translation have made languages more rapidly accessible to people everywhere, bridging the gap of understanding between humans via technology – all at the click of a button”

The best type of learning is when you get meaningful feedback on your mistakes and guidance on what you should focus on to correct them. When learning a new language this is quite complex to do in an automated way, given the wide range of potential mistakes a new speaker might make. Artificial intelligence (AI) however, can help with this. There is a field of AI called NLP (Natural Language Processing) that both looks at long strings of text and tries to understand both the meaning and different parts of speech used. We can use this to offer feedback to learners as they progress. A long-form version of this is writeandimprove, offering online english essay feedback, but the same principle also works with shorter texts too.

However, there are also a few drawbacks to machine learning. While instant translation technology can provide an emergency band-aid in times of need, it’s limited in the sense that it represents a short-term fix, rather than being a long-term substitution for properly learning another language. AI is continually developing, but languages are deeply complex and despite the hype around machine learning, algorithms are yet no match for human intelligence, especially when it comes to natural language

“While instant translation technology can provide an emergency band-aid in times of need, it’s limited in the sense that it represents a short-term fix, rather than being a long-term substitution for properly learning another language”

This is partly because machine translation often ignores the subtle nuances between different languages and can’t take into account expression. This is why language students are often not taught how to use translation tools, as they somewhat optimistically think they are always correct (clue: they are often not!).

“In the end, it’s about human communication. We want to speak to each other, not to machines”

In the end, it’s about human communication. We want to speak to each other, not to machines. Even if you speak to someone who speaks great English but it isn’t their mother tongue, curiosity might lead you to want to learn a bit of their language.