IWTYAL 011: I’m 17. Should I bother learning a language?

itunesButtonToday’s episode features a question from Ben: “I’m 17. Should I bother learning a language, when technology can already do so much for us?”

In this episode:

  • Technology is advancing quickly
  • We’re getting to the stage where technology can translate for us
  • Is it still worth learning a language in 2015 with all this technology?

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  • The[Eye]TDepartment

    Olly, that was such a lovely podcast to listen to! I could really tell this is something you feel really passionate about and I definitely agree with what you said. Technology can help you make yourself understood but language learning is so much more than that – it’s about understanding and appreciating a culture, worldview and people completely different to your own. I’m feeling so much more motivated to learn now, thank you for making my day 🙂

    • Aww… that’s great to hear, thank you very much! 🙂

  • Harold

    You’ve reminded me of something I’d completely forgotten about: my own “breakthrough moment” which happened in 2008.

    I’d been trying to learn on and off for a couple of years from a Teach Yourself Cantonese book and I hadn’t got that far (still haven’t, in fact). Anyway, I was standing on the platform at Baker Street station waiting for my train home and idly looking at a map, lost in my own thoughts. Suddenly I heard a lady’s voice behind me speaking to me urgently in a language I didn’t understand. I ignored it for a few seconds until I started recognising a few words of Cantonese. I turned around and she started talking and gesticulating, clearly wondering whether she was on the right platform. More by sheer luck than anything else the train for both of us arrived seconds later and I used gestures to show her that she should take it as I couldn’t remember the words for “train” and things like that that. So we got on the train and I thought, “It’s now or never” and asked her in Cantonese if she spoke that language. I’ll be blunt: I was terrified.

    She was floored that there was this white guy who understood, and her face lit up. Our conversation was halting of course; she used many words I simply didn’t know, but with the few words and phrases I did I explained why I’d started learning (Hong Konger friends at University) told her a bit about my family, and asked her what she was doing in the country. She said she was on holiday for three weeks, seeing a friend, and that she didn’t know any English at all. She was so happy when she got off, and and at that moment I realised something: if I could speak enough to be understood and to understand others, if I could hold a conversation, however stumbling, without resorting to my native tongue, and most importantly, if I could connect on a personal level with someone who spoke no English at all, then it was all totally worth it. Learning Cantonese has always been about two things for me: pleasure and interest in speaking the language and the ability it gives me to make new friends, which I believe are good reasons. My language learning has continued to be on and off since then, and I think that is usually because I forget why I’m learning it. Things like this are why I’m learning it. There’s a long road ahead, there’s so much I don’t know and what I do know is really not that great, but I can see that if I persist then I will be far better off than if I just use Google Translate.