Emerging into 2022, a lot of things still feel very uncertain. The world has adjusted somewhat to living in a pandemic, but it’s also dealt with a lot of renewed strain as variants surge and overwhelm our infrastructure. Depending on where you live, schools may have resumed in-person learning, or they may have periodically sent students back home. Some degree of travel has picked back up, but international trips are still out of the question for many. Given all of this, as well as many other technological factors that have been in play well before 2020, the state of language learning in 2022 is yet-to-be-determined. It’s trending in a couple noticeable directions, however.
Yes, machine translation and voice recognition technology has come a long way in the last decade. But this isn’t an article about how robots are replacing language teachers. If anything, it’s about how technology might be helping as it’s integrated into the traditional classroom model in increasingly interesting ways.
The Biggest Trends Shaping Language Learning In 2022
Translation Is Your Friend?
Though translation technology continues to improve, it’s still nowhere close to becoming a good replacement for actual language study. If anything, it’s evolved to the point of potentially becoming a useful part of the language learner’s toolkit, assuming it’s used in the right way.
One of the major ways you can incorporate auto-translation into your studies without absorbing garbled language knowledge is to only look up words, not entire sentences. Google Translate tends to make a good and fast dictionary-via-search-engine, but it’s not great at translating complex sentences correctly. For that, you’ll still have to study correct syntax.
You can also use auto-translation as a sort of study buddy by doing your best to struggle through comprehending the text on your own first, and only then telling Google you want to translate the page so you can see how well you did.
Of course, there’s “right relationship to machine translation” in theory, and there’s the way it’s often used in actual classrooms. Many students will inevitably use it to cheat or plagiarize. And as the technology improves, that might become harder for teachers to detect. Still, there seems to be a growing openness among educators around accepting that machine translation is here to stay, and that we might as well try to figure out how to use it to help students, not hinder them by making it easy to bypass actual learning.
Remote Learning Is Here To Stay
To be clear, that’s not a suggestion that kids aren’t going back to in-person learning. What it means is that for language learners of every age, the increasingly online experience of the last couple of years has given them a flexibility and convenience that many have gotten used to. It’s expected that the appetite for this sort of flexibility will only continue to increase, even among learners who are still doing part of their learning in traditional classroom settings.
A report from Meticulous Research says that the online language learning market is expected to grow by 18.7 percent between 2020 and 2027. The pandemic is obviously a huge factor in this. According to the World Economic Forum, 1.2 billion children in 186 countries have been affected by COVID-related school closures.
Still, though much of this innovation has been driven by need-based circumstances, at least part of it is being driven by consumer demand, and that may continue to be the case as the emergency factor subsides.
The ability to take live online language classes in a way that fits easily into learners’ schedules is an increasingly attractive proposition. Many are using this option alongside classroom or app-based learning.
Plus, there’s something to be said about the fact that, at least right now, a lot of international travel that’s taking place is often planned at the last minute because it’s hard to predict too far in advance whether it’ll be safe to go. People who learn languages for travel are now in need of flexible, convenient lessons — perhaps more than ever before.
Bilingual Education Might Become More Bilingual
For a long time, the golden rule of most language education was that once you stepped into the classroom, use of your native language was more or less verboten. The idea is that when you’re not able to rely on what you already know, you’re forced to start thinking in your learning language, which ultimately speeds you along on the path to fluency.
However, there seems to be a growing, yet still small, movement for teaching two languages at once. This is part of a linguistic concept called translanguaging, which broadly refers to the use of multiple languages in a single situation but has been the subject of growing interest in language education. Translanguaging is a rebuttal to the idea that languages are processed separately in the brain. It’s more in line with proposing that for a bilingual or multilingual individual, language is fluid, and languages inform each other rather than being compartmentalized in the brain.
Though this idea remains on the more experimental side for now, some language teachers are starting to think more concretely about the practical applications of this. Three of them proposed a few ideas in an article for Language Magazine, which included having students collaboratively narrate a story using all of their linguistic resources, as well as writing bilingual texts that alternate languages for various sections.
This has already been somewhat in practice in language immersion schools, where children receive a bilingual education and often pick up third languages through sheer osmosis.
Learning Is An Ecosystem
More and more, language learning is becoming a thing you do not in isolation — not only when you’re in a classroom or have a book open or are using an app — but a holistic effort that’s often comprised of multiple touchpoints and immersion exercises.
In addition to its core product of app-based lessons, Babbel has expanded to offering live online classes in addition to games, podcasts, and YouTube videos that provide more ways to learn and cement one’s language skills. This is in line with what we’ve long been recommending, which is to supplement your more formal lessons with various forms of foreign-language media and immersion opportunities. The more well-rounded the education, the more likely it is to stick.
This is also largely what’s been happening in traditional classrooms as well. Some language teachers are now promoting a blended model where students come to class to get one-on-one attention from a teacher, but use language learning apps on their own time to practice and progress on their own.
Finally, there’s never been a better time to be a language learner looking for TV shows or movies to stream in your learning language. Platforms like Netflix and Hulu are starting to offer more and more entertainment in other languages besides English. This is great news for anyone who likes to feel productive without making a ton of effort.