I studied French at university and to help me on my way I was armed with my trusty dictionary and the not so trusty Google translate. Today, Google has become a lot more reliable (although not fully). There are many tools available online to help us learn a language – from translations services, to pronunciation software and communities of online native speakers. Google has even launched Google goggles which uses pictures to search the web and can translate road signs and menus while you’re abroad – pretty cool, huh?!

However, my question is: are these tools really helping us learn the language or are we just getting by? I was sad to see that foreign languages took a hit last week with UK state schools reporting years of steady decline in GCSE take-up. Could this be linked to our over reliance on technology to do all the hard work for us? Are we lazy linguists?

In my view, the authentic experience of learning a language is invaluable. In order to successfully communicate in a foreign language you need to be aware of cultural differences and the mindset of a native speaker – it goes much further than simple translation. You need to go the country and/or interact with a native speaker offline – body language can be so important when you’re having a conversation.

Much like communicating with journalists, using the right words is all well and good, but understanding their environment and pressures is much more effective.

Similarly, language tools are great but can only serve to compliment an already existing ability. Bring back compulsory foreign language GCSEs at school!

 This post was written by Charlotte.

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