“Information is conveyed verbally, but in a face-to-face conversation, body language and facial expressions can have an incredible impact on how information is interpreted.” (University of Texas Permian Basin)
“There are, it should be noted, people who believe that large language models are not as good at language as [some would hold]—that they are basically glorified auto-completes whose flaws scale with their power.” (The Atlantic)
It’s easy to think of language like a magic decoder ring, where you take a message in one language and just pop it into a decoder and spit out the new language, which leads us to put more faith than maybe we should into the future of language models and AI. In addition, there’s more to a conversation than just receiving and conveying information through language. Speaking to someone face to face without the aid of a machine strengthens social bonds, reduces confusion, and allows for communication through non-verbal cues. In addition, it’s more efficient.
We are fundamentally social animals with a tribal instinct. We use language – even our native language – to define who is in and who is out of the group. Think about inside jokes, or the instant one-liners that may mean something to you and your best friend but not to anyone else in the world. These are strong examples of how language builds community. And making an attempt to speak someone else’s language constitutes asking for permission to enter their community, and displays the gargantuan good faith effort that you’ve made to stake that claim.
Despite the great strides in information science, our brains still make significantly more language computations than the average machine. Think of the difference in meaning you can create by stressing each one of the words in a sentence like: I didn’t say she stole my money. How can you guarantee that typing a sentence like that into a translator is going to get you the meaning you intend?
In addition to the differences you can generate in the above sentence by alternating your stress patterns, just think about how you might interpret that sentence differently if it was delivered with a smug look, with a wink or with an outburst of tears. The content of what we’re saying may not even matter half as much as the emotional output we add to our message, but computers don’t speak with emotions. Only humans do.
The next time you’re alone out in public, observe some conversations taking place. Watch the natural flow of not just the words, but the emotions and interactions that accompany the conversation, and then you’ll begin to appreciate just how much machines can get in the way of that natural human activity. Would you rather have a human or a machine pick up the phone the next time you have an issue with your bank?
Despite all of the wonderful things that technology does for us, humans are still just better conversationalists than our gadgets are. If you’re ready to take the plunge and discover how learning a language can bring you more and deeper connections with our human family, inquire about one of our classes or private lessons today! And stay tuned for even more reasons why you should learn a language (next month).