Lifelong Language Learning

To continue the theme of my previous post, here’s the question for this one: can technology change the way we learn languages throughout our lives? Short answer: of course it can (and will).

Now for the longer answer. It is not very long, in fact, so don’t go tl;dr on me just yet. Here in Finland language learning is in a somewhat ok shape. We are a small nation of five million people and Finnish is not spoken elsewhere in the world. Basically all of us learn English (plus Finnish and Swedish of course, which are official languages of Finland).

We can generally communicate in English. In addition to being taught at school, we learn it from TV and movies. Unlike most of Europe, we do not dub but use subtitles instead. I am very grateful to whoever is responsible of this.

That being said, there is still demand for more language learning. Couple of years after graduating, many of us start to think further educating ourselves. Key here is that we can choose the subject ourselves so the motivation to learn is intrinsic.

In addition to yoga classes, carpentry, cooking, and what have you, language courses are popular in adult education. The problem for many is finding the time to go to the classes. Workdays stretch to evenings, kids have to be taken to their hobbies, etc. Language learning is something that should be doable in an ad-hoc manner, in several but short idle moments during the week.

Enter educational technologies! In the years to come we’re going to see breakthroughs in mobile language learning technologies. Already now you have a myriad language learning applications e.g. in Apple’s App Store, starting from simple word practicing apps. But when context-awareness, audio interfaces, and speech recognition become better, this is going to take off big time. And they are going to become better.

Finally, in addition to consumer business, language learning technologies have also B2B implications. In a flat world (or spiky, doesn’t matter [PDF]), companies have incentives to invest in their employees’ language skills. International projects need common language and more people go to be expatriates. Incidentally, technologies are to “blame” that we need more language skills. They make the world flat and call for more interaction between different countries, languages, and cultures.

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