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June 2019

Language Apps of the Future

What will they be like?

Microsoft recently released a new language learning app called Read My World. The innovative app allows users to look up vocabulary for things in the world around them, whether that thing is a textual sign or an image. One is reminded of the remarkable capabilities of Google Translate, the workhorse language app that can translate text, images of text, and even vocal audio in such a way as to facilitate a conversation.

Microsoft’s new app, however, allows users to look up vocabulary based on images, even if the image includes no text. For example, imagine you are shopping in a foreign country and you’ve forgotten the local word for “apple”. You could use Read My World to take a photo of an apple to find the translation. Additionally, while Google Translate is more of a utility app, Read My World has a strong study element to it. New words and their pronunciations are saved for you, so you can review them by later playing in-app games.

Read My World is still in its initial stages, but it makes one wonder how other cutting-edge language learning apps might be like in the future. We can examine this idea using current trends.

Real-time

Without a doubt, the language learning app of the future must provide real-time results. With the advent of 5G and improvements with translation software, this may not take long. Google Translate is already able to work with audio seconds after it’s inputted. Real-time translation, however, would be useful in developing a system to have more natural conversations. Think of the universal translator from Star Trek, where everyone can understand one another as if they were all speaking the same language. With an earpiece and a smartphone, we may be able to converse with nearly anyone in the world with the right app, as if we all knew all the languages of the world.

Artificial Intelligence

Most language apps today use artificial intelligence (AI) to some extent for their chat bots, but they are still a far cry from speaking with a human. As these technologies improve, however, it will feel more natural speaking with a computer, at least for the purposes of learning a new language. AI requires low connection latencies to analyze lots of data. As connectivity speeds improve and as chat bot programming evolves, we will find more suitable language partners on our phones.

Wearables & Augmented Reality

Future tech will be seamless and comfortable. And while Google Glass didn’t live up to its hype, it did lay a foundation for future eyeglass tech. Imagine technology implemented into the lenses of your existing glasses, powered by AI and connected to the web. You could use a more advanced version of Read My World or Google Translate to see words of many objects in real time (augmented reality).
 
Additionally, the popularity of truly wireless earbuds has been on a steep rise. Many earbuds actually have computer chips inside of them, and one day said chips can be powerful enough to function on their own. Again, we refer to the universal translator from Star Trek.

Virtual Reality

This one isn’t so far off, as virtual reality (VR) is already decent enough to use for language learning purposes. Purchasing a good VR headset still requires some money, however the prices are dropping. Some textbooks with study guides can cost up to €175 or more. Oculus’s VR headsets start at €355. While this isn’t small change, it’s not outside the realm of affordability. As VR headsets are offered more uses outside of gaming, enough so that they can become household tools, we can expect more learning applications released for the general public.

How do you envision the language learning apps of the future? What are you most excited for? Let us know on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” telc English for more articles on language and culture from around the world!

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