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Languages & Cultural Blog

Google's Pixel Buds - A Welcome Change for Language Lovers

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Google's Pixel 2 event in San Francisco revealed the world changing Pixel Buds, wireless headphones that translate between 40 languages in real-time. As described by Google's hardware product manager, during the event.
 
"With Pixel Buds, I can use real-time Google Translate to have a natural conversation in 40 languages,"
- Juston Payne, Hardware Product Manager, Google, Inc.
 
With its latest iteration, Google is closer to delivering the fictional translator called Babbel Fish, from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. A science fiction novel by Douglas Adams that first pitched the idea (some 40 years ago) to solve the problem of alien races communicating across the galaxy in real-time. It has inspired tech creators over the years to try to replicate the Babel Fish in real life and Google's Pixel Buds come pretty close to it and could be a real boon for language lovers and travelers alike!
 
 
“It’s like you’ve got your own personal translator with you everywhere you go. Say you’re in Little Italy, and you want to order your pasta like a pro. All you have to do is hold down on the right earbud and say, ‘Help me speak Italian’,” wrote Adam Champy, Google’s product manager for the Pixel Buds, on the company’s blog.
 
As impressive as it may seem, this isn't the first time Google has rolled out the ability to do near real-time translations back and forth between different languages. The Google Translate app for Android and Apple's iOS devices can already perform the same trick, without the need for the Pixel Buds or the Pixel 2 smartphone. Simply click on the mic to activate it and speak into your mic in English (or your native language) and see it translate in your choice of 40 languages in real-time. It will then listen out for the reply and perform the same trick the other way around.
 
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Now that you have tried it out yourself, isn't it fun? Well, that's the whole point of learning a language! it's fun! and nothing can replace the value and usefulness of learning new languages.
 
However, like many meaningful tasks that have been automated with the use of technology and rendered obsolete, are we heading towards a world were learning a language is no longer necessary, and a niche skill such as being proficient in a 2nd, 3rd or 4th language is no longer an advantage or useful?
 
A study done by PwC, a multinational professional services network, headquartered in London, found that as many as 38% of American Jobs are at risk of automation by the early 2030s - that's less than 20 years away! The study, however, goes on to suggest that automation will boost productivity and wealth, leading to offsetting additional job gains elsewhere in the economy.
 
Tech companies are already turning towards linguists to help with product development and to better engineer the natural language processing in their products/apps.
 
For language lovers, there couldn't have been a better time to learn new languages! We live in a time where nothing is impossible and you only need to use the right tools to speed up the learning process. Google's Pixel Buds do just that, it compliments the learning rather than replacing it.
 
Even if advances in machine learning and speech recognition reach its zenith, it will be a long while before they are able to pick on the nuances of the culture that comes with learning a language, and arguably the most important aspect of learning.
 
There are other valuable lessons to learn a language. Speaking someone's language is a verbal sign of respect that can bridge cultural gaps and create lasting relationships with your peers and the people you interact with, as you explore the world! 
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