Have you ever thought to yourself: ‘I really need to speak better English’? Perhaps you are too busy and you haven’t got the time to study.
Well, everyone loves shortcuts, don’t they? Also, no-one likes long periods of really hard work, do they? Now, to help you with your English there is the Google translator app for smartphones.
Recently there have been a lot of articles and reports about this app and how it is going to break down language barriers. The app has a conversation mode, which it is claimed will work in ‘real-time’, so that you can record what somebody says and get an immediate translation. In addition, there is a photo mode: take a photo of a word on a menu or a street sign, and have it translated immediately.
SKYPE also has a real-time language translator in beta testing right now, which will be launched in the near future.
So, does the availability of these ‘language apps’ mean that you don’t need to learn English anymore because this technology will do all the language work for you? The answer is definitely, NO!
Just think about it for a moment – how good was the translation that you got when you last used Google Translate? Not amazing, right?
You absolutely need to learn English with good English teachers to survive in modern life. Not being able to speak English is not an option, right? And as more and more people around the world begin to get better and better at English with more and higher English qualifications, it is very easy to get left behind with only ‘OK’ English.
Obviously, translator apps will eventually get better, but… here are 3 situations where it is incredibly important to rely on your own English language skills and not hope for a basic translation from a smartphone app or the internet.
1. BUSINESS PROBLEMS
When you use Business English (and let’s face facts, the whole world does international business using English) it is essential to be clear, precise and quick. If your communication is anything less, you will experience problems.
How could you get through a Job interview for an English speaking company if you can only speak English via a phone app?
During a video-conference, face-to-face meeting or negotiation, what would your business partners think about you and your company, if you were waiting to see what a translate app would say before you reply and then your contribution is a crazy sentence?
WHEN GOOD ENGLISH WORKS AND TRANSLATORS DO NOT:
You are an Italian businessman negotiating face to face in English with a Chinese manufacturer: the Chinese partner suggests a price of 50,000 USD. The real time translator app tells you that he said 15,000 USD and you continue the negotiation based on that price. 15 minutes later there is huge confusion.
2. LOVE DISASTER
Love knows no barriers. I know so many couples with people from different countries. A few examples from my close friends of couples: Poland with Hungary; Croatia with America; Germany with Spain, France with Brazil, Iran with England. All of these couples speak in English together. OK, sometimes they might not speak perfect English with a small mistake here and there. However, when they first met, they spoke together looking in each other’s eyes and feeling the wonderful new romantic feelings between them… without stopping to use a translator to understand what the other one said. Perhaps we can say that English (and not French) is the language of love! :)
Romance has to flow naturally, doesn’t it? Saying ‘Hold on, I just need to translate what you said’ would really kill the moment dead, wouldn’t it?
WHEN GOOD ENGLISH WORKS AND TRANSLATORS DO NOT:
You meet ‘the one’. You really feel that this is the love of your life; your soul mate. You are infatuated with this person and want to spend the rest of your life with them. You want to say something really emotional to express your true feelings. You want to say ‘I think I’m falling in love with you and I want to know how you feel’. You type this in (or speak in to your phone) and the English translation comes out as something horrible.
This moment, and possibly the best opportunity of your life will have been lost!
3. EMERGENCY EMERGENCY
I do not wish this on anyone, but sometimes bad things happen to good people.
What would happen if you were on holiday in an English speaking country (or a country where you do not speak the language like Germany, Poland, Vietnam, Morocco or wherever) and you or your partner gets involved in an emergency where you need urgent medical attention? Your boyfriend breaks his leg while skiing in Slovakia; your taxi is involved in a car crash in Madrid; your wife bangs her head falling down some stairs in Tokyo and is unconscious.
Having great English skills will help you in these horrible, super stressful situations. Hoping to get a good translation from the internet could end up in disaster!
NO INTERNET = NO ENGLISH?
Even when translator apps become better, and possibly more accurate, using them depends on internet connection and the battery life of your smartphone.
If you depend on using a translator app for something important in your daily life and your battery is about to run out, what would you do?
Maybe you do not have an EU to UK plug adaptor for your phone charger on a 1-day business trip to London and you need to do Business English small talk with your client, what will you do then?
I think that the answer is: PANIC!
TRANSLATOR APPS IN THE MEDIA
The BBC recently sent a reporter to Bilbao in Spain to use the Google translator app as English and Spanish are supposed to be the most accurate languages to translate in at the moment. The overall conclusion was that it did not really help. It was OK for the occasional word, but even that was not successful all the time. Understanding real Spanish conversation and necessary information resulted in problems and eventually people saying to the reporter: “Just ask me in English. I speak English.”
It’s important to remember that speaking English across borders is always going to be real, not ‘virtual’ communication. Humans have been conversing in real time for thousands of years and that is not going to change overnight!
In a recent Guardian newspaper report on the Google translator, a senior university lecturer in Modern Languages at the University of Northumbria was quoted as saying, "For basic things, it might be useful. But it is never going to pick up the nuances, the cultural references or the humour.”
Good point – the small, specific details, the common knowledge and the fun are the key ingredients to truly understand what is being said in English, or any language.
The only way to achieve this is to learn English properly.