黄色の本を読むロボット達。 『英語を学ぶ理由 - 人工知能(AI)の時代』のブログ記事画像 English: Robots reading a yellow book. Blog post image titled "Why Learn A Language - The Age of Artificial Intelligence (AI)"

Why Learn A Language Despite AI: Empower Your Humanity

Artificial intelligence, like ChatGPT, has recently become a hot topic. It can not only translate but also write essays, etc., and there is growing interest in the debate over its impact on learning and education. Now that machine translation has made great strides, is there any reason to spend money and time to learn a foreign language? This article will consider the benefits of learning a foreign language and the limitations of machine translation.

First, we asked the artificial intelligence of Microsoft Bing Search about machine translation and its impact on foreign language learning.

Read the Japanese Version of this article here(日本語版記事) (the content is not identical).

Related: Limit of AI in Language Translation

Let us ask AI

We asked Microsoft Bing’s artificial intelligence why we should learn a language in the age of AI.

Q: Do you intend to replace translators?

The response:

No, I am not going to replace translators. Translators are human professionals who have the skills and expertise to translate texts and speech from one language to another. They can handle complex, nuanced and specialized texts and speech that require cultural, contextual and domain knowledge. They can also provide quality assurance, proofreading and editing services to ensure accuracy and clarity.

I am a chat mode of Microsoft Bing search that can perform web searches and generate creative content in different languages. I can help users with basic translation tasks, such as translating words, phrases or sentences from one language to another. However, I cannot guarantee the quality, accuracy or appropriateness of my translations. I also cannot handle texts and speech that require human judgment, creativity or emotion.

I think translators and AI can work together to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Translators can use AI tools to speed up their work, improve their productivity and expand their reach. AI tools can use human feedback to improve their performance, learn from their mistakes and adapt to new situations. Together, we can provide better service to our users and clients.

Bing Chat 2024

Currently, artificial intelligence appears to be capable of only basic translation. Limitations still exist in machine translation. It is particularly difficult to translate differences in culture and nuance accurately. While machine translation is highly accurate in translating words and grammar, it is difficult to accurately convey the subtle nuances of expression and cultural background. Therefore, learning a foreign language allows for more accurate communication. At the same time, seeing how active translation opportunities will be will be interesting. By the way, I do not like how AI uses the word ‘nuance’ so often.

Next, we asked them why they we should learned a foreign language.

Q: Why should I learn a foreign language when artificial intelligence can translate it?

Learning a language is more than just translating words from one language to another. Learning a language can help you:

  • Understand the culture, history and values of the people who speak that language.
  • Communicate more effectively and authentically with native speakers of that language.
  • Develop your cognitive, creative and critical thinking skills by learning new ways of expressing yourself and understanding others.
  • Enhance your career and academic opportunities by accessing new markets, resources and networks.
  • Enjoy the beauty, diversity and richness of the literature, music, art and media of that language.

AI can translate words, but it cannot translate the meaning, context and emotion behind them. AI can help you with basic communication, but it cannot help you with deeper understanding, appreciation and connection. Learning a language can enrich your life in ways that AI cannot.

Bing Chat 2024

The artificial intelligence of Microsoft Bing search is listed above for multiple reasons. All of these reasons seem correct, but there are other good reasons. For example, AI translation is limited in its accuracy with technical terms and special contexts. Also, relying on translation tools for critical information is risky from a privacy and security perspective. Therefore, the ability to understand a language without AI is essential.

From here on, I would like to focus on the importance of understanding the culture, history, and values of the people who speak the language.

The Bing chat above has stated that learning a foreign language enables one to understand the culture, history, and values of those who speak that language. But why is it important? I don’t think the answer is obvious, so I would like to consider it. I would argue that understanding different cultures, histories, and values is important, even if not tied to money or career.

Why is it important to learn a different language?

I want to discuss more normative reasons for learning a different language beyond its practical economic value, intrinsic value, and relation to diversity.

‘Hard to see’ values (Intangible intrinsic values)

I define non-practical activities as ‘something that does not lead to money or a career. We can also characterize it as something that enriches one’s life, even though it is not directly connected to money or career. For example, people paint for enjoyment and sharing. Values for less practical things vary from culture to culture and individual to individual, but they contain elements that bring spiritual richness, so to speak. Painting, art, music, poetry, philosophy, and pure mathematics may have little monetary return. Still, they can have an impact on society and individuals.

Of course, some people become wealthy through painting, but few intend to paint to become rich. This is because if their goal is to become wealthy, they will take other paths (e.g., business). If they do not value art or learning (humanities or pure mathematics) themselves, they will not take the financial risk of becoming an artist or scholar (also, they are not idiots to forego financial benefits). However, a single painting or poem may inspire people and promote social change. Research in pure mathematics may also contribute to practical science and technology in the future. Thus, activities like those and studies often have indirect value, even if the practicality is not directly apparent.

Due to the international situation, many languages have little practical value, and English has disproportionately more practical value than other languages. In particular, classical languages are rarely used except for research. However, we should realize that people don’t learn classical language for money. They are motivated by curiosity and sometimes affection toward the culture or history of that language. Therefore, it is important to consider other values when thinking about learning a language. Do you enjoy the culture and history of a particular language? Do you simply like how the language sounds? It is also important to remind ourselves that internal motivation is central to learning and acquiring a foreign language.

Importance of diversity and cross-cultural understanding – why is diversity important?

The world is full of diversity, and that diversity is more than just a fact of our world. Here, I speak of diversity beyond race; it is about racial, cultural, linguistic, religious, and cognitive diversity. Diversity is valuable and life-enriching; at least, this is my claim. It forms the rich texture of a cosmopolitan society, where each culture, language, and value system adds character to our world. While some people reject diversity (perhaps they desire to dominate others or fear others), diversity alone promotes mutual understanding and empathy and promotes the ideals of multiculturalism and inclusion. However, I acknowledge that bad actors can turn diversity into a hostile environment. Whatever your views on diversity, this is certain: Escaping from diversity in a global community is difficult, and the world is becoming more diverse daily.

Diversity brings differences and new possibilities and perspectives through our differences. The preceding perspectives provide new problem-solving approaches and encourage people to think deeply about themselves and others. It is hard to be self-reflective if there are no other people to compare ourselves to. Homogeneity encourages uncritical thinking and conformity and limits innovation.

Learning a foreign language is a means of accessing different perspectives. Reading about other cultures is essential, but this differs from experiencing their cultures. Engaging with people from different backgrounds and visiting foreign places not only educates you but also removes various prejudices and misconceptions. This helps one understand that generations of history, environment, and social structures have shaped each person’s culture and values. It also challenges those who have lived in one culture and are accustomed to biased ways of thinking and feeling.

Above all, recognizing and accepting diversity through different cultures will increase awareness that many people have varying backgrounds in our global world. This will lead to respect for each other and people as human beings. In addition, listening to others and trying to learn and understand them is important in human relations. Dialogue with people from different cultures and values deepens mutual understanding and creates opportunities for cooperation. People from different backgrounds can enrich their lives by engaging in conversation, attempting to understand each other, sharing various experiences, and cooperating.


Other thoughts:

Normative reasons for learning a language emphasize ethical, cultural, and social values. Culturally, understanding and using a language helps preserve and promote the heritage associated with it. As global citizens, multilingualism enables more effective participation in international communities. On a personal level, language learning can contribute to self-improvement and personal growth, which may be an ethical manner (In philosophy, ethics is traditionally meant to be the study of the best human life. This is how I am using the term here). From a social justice perspective, language learning may bridge social and cultural divides and promote inclusivity. It also supports intellectual integrity by helping us better understand objective human conditions.

More importantly, language is a means to connect with others, and our ability to communicate with others should impact how we respond to ethical and moral responsibility (morality here, I mean right/wrong or duties). However, AI can become a wall between us, as it may require more understanding and emotional depth for genuine human connection. While AI is useful, over-reliance on AI for language translation can lead to misunderstandings and a superficial grasp of other cultures. If we take it to the extreme, it may contribute to apathy. We may communicate with someone through a machine for practical purposes but lose interest in knowing about the person behind the translation tool. Suppose it is true that our ability to connect with others impacts how we respond to ethical and moral responsibility. In that case, it will influence how the global community will behave. Therefore, while AI offers valuable assistance, the comprehensive and enriching language learning experience should remain the same.

Learning a new language can also enhance our thinking ability from different perspectives due to its unique logical structure and vocabulary. Each language has its own syntax and grammar rules, which can shape how speakers perceive and organize their thoughts. For instance, the structure of a sentence in Japanese (my native language), which often places the verb at the end, can lead to a different approach to thinking about actions and outcomes compared to English. Additionally, vocabulary differences provide insight into what a culture prioritizes and values. Words that exist in one language but not in another can reveal unique concepts and ideas. This linguistic diversity encourages flexibility in thinking. It enables us to understand and appreciate more. Therefore, language learning is also about expanding our intellectual and empathetic horizons.

Here is a relevant book on the value of non-economic activities: The Usefulness of the Useless by Nuccio Ordine.

What if AI can make simultaneous instant translations?

In everyday practical terms, simultaneous instant translation (or simultaneous interpreting) sounds incredibly useful. Let’s also suppose that AI can accurately convey cultural subtleties, idiomatic expressions, and contextual meanings to the listener. However, there still seems to be a problem. Will I comprehend the meaning given to me as deeply and authentically as I had learned the language myself, even if translated in my language? When we learn a language, we internalize its structure, rhythm, and nuances, allowing us to grasp what is being said and the underlying emotions, cultural references, and intentions. This level of understanding fosters a deeper connection and a more genuine interaction.

I may be wrong, but it seems that unless AI can manipulate my brain, this deep comprehension of a translated message is impossible. Of course, this raises moral questions. I don’t know about you, but I do not want AI to manipulate my brain in order to make foreign language learning obsolete. AI can facilitate communication but can impart the internalized understanding and cultural resonance from immersing oneself in a new language. Therefore, while AI translation tools are valuable, they are not a substitute for the rich, transformative experience of language learning. When AI translation embeds itself too deep in our lives in the name of economic or practical concerns, we must sacrifice something immensely valuable.

Conclusion: Why Learn a Language in the Age of AI?

Overall, there are two central family of reasons to learn a foriegn language.

The first is a practical and economic reason. It is useful from a social and career standpoint, like networking, passing English exams, and access to quality information.

The second reason is personality, ideas, and relationships. It works not only to coexist with people from different backgrounds but also to broaden our perspectives, cooperate with each other, and enrich our lives. Most people get caught up in economic reasons and forget about equally important reasons for thinking and relationships. This is probably because everything other than economic value is abstract and difficult to see. However, they may indirectly contribute to one’s social standing and career. They can also be seen as valuable even if they do not have economic benefits. If you learn a foreign language, you will be glad you did it even if the economic benefits do not arrive. Learning a foreign language is something to be proud of; it is a mark of value.

AI translation tools are certainly useful and helpful in many situations, but there is more to learning a foreign language than that. There are many benefits to learning English, including cultural understanding, improved communication skills, brain training, and expanded career opportunities, and learning a foreign language is becoming increasingly important even as AI technology continues to rise.

Finally, many pleasures await you: conversation, reading, movies, and so much more. Don’t forget to enjoy language learning, too.

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