For those of us who grew up at school learning French, subsequently being told it was next-to-useless was somewhat disheartening. Spanish quickly became a preferred language of learning given its wider application, and following the appreciation of China’s rise, Mandarin. Whilst French remains a beautiful language, few would have suggested it was a future global language.
Thanks to demographic trends in Sub-Saharan Africa, French could, in fact, be the most-spoken language in the world, ahead of English and even Mandarin by 2050 -with 750 million native speakers. So, will tomorrow’s schoolchildren be learning French, after all? Perhaps the better question, despite the numerous mental benefits that language learning unquestionably confers, is whether they will be learning a second language at all?
Tech experts believe that ‘…within a decade or so, we’ll be able to communicate with one another via small earpieces with built-in microphones[i].’ The value of language learning could certainly diminish in relative terms given the technological probability of effective real-time translation apps. Cultural barriers would certainly still exist and the benefits of working abroad may if anything, be exaggerated, but with language barriers dropping, what would happen to the wider world of work? Talent platforms and other forms of digitally based work would suddenly ensure a range of contract work becomes increasingly competitive. Whilst the outsourcing of English speaking contact centre jobs is mature in its evolution, might such possibilities open up competition in places without such histories. Finnish call centres and Hungarian telemarketing are unlikely to hitherto had much competition from India or the Philippines but with language 2.0, a flatter world could deliver such competition.
Since many transformations occur at the intersection of two or more technologies, it is worth speculating on what happens after what happens next. Will the spoken language remain a principle way of communication? In all likelihood, yes, since we are a social species, yet intriguing opportunities are emerging; Emotiv, for example, is a product that can read your brainwaves and understand their meaning through electroencephalography (or EEG). Married to an instant translation app or algorithm, the prospects for internationalizing (or at least providing remote options for) a whole range of social and scientific fields becomes possible. Various brain to machine interfaces have already allowed people to control airplanes and other machines with the power of their mind. It is only a matter of time – perhaps little more than a decade, before direct brain to brain communications occurs. Irrespective of dominant languages, perhaps the lingua franca of the future will be digital.