Friday, October 16, 2015

The Pitfalls of Using Translation Apps When Learning a Language

When you're learning a foreign language, it can be frustrating when you want to say something but lack the skills to do so. This is especially true at the very beginning when your language skills are rudimentary.

When you first start learning a foreign language, you're effectively a baby with a limited vocabulary and a limited number of verb tenses at your disposal. You're probably going to want to cry in the same way babies cry when they want food but can't ask for it! However, one of the worst things I think you can do is turn to machine translation to solve your problem...


...just like these irritating adverts for the Apple Watch, where two tourists visit Berlin and use their watch to ask a local for advice on where to eat. I don't mind that they used their app for this, but I don't like the way they just thrust their watch in some guy's face. Therein lies the problem. That's all the app's good for. You can thrust it in somebody's face and get an answer, but you won't understand their reply.

Machine translating what you want to say because you haven't learnt a particular tense yet is asking for trouble. You'll never understand the response, and because you don't understand the construction used, you'll learn little more than how to say that phrase again. That's if the app got it right in the first place.

You don't have to embark on your language journey alone, just
don't take a "translation" app along as a travelling buddy.
Then you have the problem of translating word for word. Word-for-word translation is rarely, if ever, useful. That's because languages have their own ways of saying things, their own syntax, and their own grammar. It's very likely that any machine translation of a sentence more complicated than an everyday expression will be nothing but complete and utter rubbish.

What you should be doing is learning to walk before you can run. You have to just deal with the fact that you can't say everything and rejoice in the fact that you can say something. Learn to rephrase things! More often than not, there are plenty of ways to express an idea, and getting your message across and being understood is one of the joys of speaking languages. It may not be the exact way you wanted to say it, but at least you said it yourself.