The End of Language Learning?

Mobile apps, learning communities and services on the Internet now offer a far more effective and also cheaper way to do these tasks as a student.

Ever since I started covering the online education space I have asked myself if there is an end of the line for independent language tutors / teachers / coaches like myself. I have often blogged about the importance for independent educators to concentrate on areas of language teaching that cannot be easily replaced by apps and services on the Internet. In order to stay competitive and being able to make a living you need to give up parts of your business and move to “higher ground”.

Let’s face it, lots of language teaching was centered around learning vocabulary and grammar during class time. And it was an excellent way to earn money as classes were the same over and over and over again. Sure, they were boring as well for both sides. Mobile apps, learning communities and services on the Internet now offer a far more effective and also cheaper way to do these tasks as a student. Why should anyone pay a teacher per hour when he/she can learn the same at their own pace where and when they want? Sure, there are always some students who want to learn solely with a teacher but I don’t think that this is the majority or a huge market.

The next logical step is to drop language learning all together. My friend Arkady Zilberman shared the SpeechTrans demo video on Facebook lately and asked

“I wonder which impact this innovation will have on the success rate of learning a foreign language in the world? Any predictions?”

So, here is my prediction: probably none. The thing is this: living in rather touristic region of France for a while now I am still shocked how few tourists coming to France actually speak French. And by speaking I really mean the minimum basics. I always thought that this would eventually become a thing of the past with younger generations speaking at least three languages in Europe but it seems as if I was wrong.

My region is also very popular amongst the British who tend to buy old country houses and live parts of the year here. Many of them don’t speak French and they tend to stay amongst themselves.

Personally, I could never imagine to travel a country without speaking / understanding at least a bit of the local language. Before, when I traveled I usually took a language course at my local adult education center, bought some books etc. but that makes me the exception of the rule, I guess.

I also just watched a documentary about the early days of Germans travelling to Italy in the 1950ies. One sentence that stood out for me was from an old gentleman who until today does not speak one word of Italian though he travels to the same spot every year for the past 50 years or so. He said

“When I arrived here in the 50ies no one spoke German. So I told them: If you want to sell me something, learn German. And they did.”

I guess the same is true for Germany’s preferred getaway Majorca.

The point is that even with technology making the process of learning a language as easy and often times as fun as it can be, there is a large group of people who will never make the effort of even starting to learn a foreign language. I am not even sure if they are interested in using apps like SpeechTrans but it won’t affect the actual signups for language classes. Those who really want to learn a language will always do as the reasons go far deeper than ordering a meal or buying a train ticket. It’s about culture, respect for the locals and personal fulfillment.

Picture via Shutterstock

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