I MISS TALKING with my Slovak friends. While their English is remarkably better than my Slovak, there is still a lot that gets lost in translation. I always felt the need to up my game in the language department if I truly wanted to connect with people outside of my culture.
So at first, I was excited to learn about Microsoft’s new Skype Translator technology. This will make international communication much more accessible, and intimate. And yet, there’s a danger in software like this. While it is currently designed to translate between English and Spanish speakers, something inside of me knows this was created to benefit the English speakers more than their counterparts.
What I’d rather see is a greater emphasis on Americans to learn a second language. The cognitive benefits of learning a second language go beyond just communication skills; the Skype Translator takes much of that development away. It might make it easier to communicate around the world, but what happens when an English speaker travels to a Spanish-speaking country?
The use of school children in this ad is deceiving; really, the people that will benefit the most from this technology are international business people who don’t have a lot of time to learn advanced levels of foreign language, or adult students working with teachers through web-based, higher education programs. I don’t think people should view this as an easy fix to communicating with people in different countries. It’s helpful, and it’s fun, and any exposure to language is needed to break down stereotypes, but the Skype Translator’s purpose should be viewed as an enhancement to language learning — not a replacement.