I see you can get an in-ear translation device. It is called the Pilot from a company called Unilad. It reminded me very much like the babel fish from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Life is imitating art? It goes in your ear like a hearing aid and a person can speak to you and a fraction of a second later you hear what they are saying in your mother tongue. Don’t ask me how it works or even if it does work but I assume they need to come in pairs. It has been all over Facebook and I am hoping that it is not just some elaborate hoax.
The ability to communicate in different languages has been a problem that mankind has grappled with since the dawn of language. I wasn’t there but I am assuming that language was developed within different tribal structures. This wouldn’t be a problem until people came across different groups and needed to communicate.
Now I am wondering if this is a good thing. Surely having the ability to be able to communicate with anyone you come across has to be of benefit yet communication is more than just words. Nuance, tone and body language all have to be taken into account yet I’m sure they can be overcome. Perhaps in the future we will be able to translate facial expressions as well as words.
What concerns me though is that language is often an expression of culture. Learning a foreign language gives you access to foreign customs, foreign practices and indeed foreign ways of thinking. A trip abroad, for me, will never be the same again without hearing the different tongues and having a machine to translate the words will leave us bereft of those cultural differences that make the world such a fascinating place. It will make people even more lazy than they are, especially the English speaking people and will reduce global culture into a single amorphous and unexciting amalgam in the name of speed and efficiency.
We should also be concerned that the translator gets it right as the same word can have many meaningless in different contexts. Monty Python’s Hungarian phrase book springs to mind.