This situation now exists:
Google Chrome senses when a webpage is written in another language and it translates it on the fly into the language of your choice. Google Docs does the same thing with collaborative documents. This means that a great many barriers are removed from creating, researching, and aggregating information from anywhere.
It also does a couple more things. It makes the teaching of languages nearly impossible in the ways we have done it previously. It also makes us all language experts.
With easy access to automatic translation tools, there is so little incentive for students who are taking online classes or working on homework to translate their own work. More that that, we can no longer simply take a pass on information if it is written in a different language. We can’t only make collaborations with those that speak our native tongue. We are now responsible for working with others from around the world and not feeling the limits of our mono linguistic obsessed society.
So, now that this situation exists, what does it mean?
It means that we can’t do online translation exams. We can’t hire professionals only for their ability to convey meaning from one language to another. We can’t focus all of our energy into the things that a single piece of software can accomplish in a mater of seconds.
The alternative is to start expecting more.
Rather than quizzing students on their ability to translate, we need to ore sent them with situations where they would actually have to collaborate to create a working document in both languages. They should be responsible for working with a native speaker of that other language and crafting pieces of writing that demonstrate the ability to fix automated translations. They should create novels and do research and create web pages that chronicle the real work of language experts. And those experts, now that they are everywhere, must do more, too. The real expertise will now be in the language of communication and not static information. We must find the ways in which people are being people (instead of machines) and then translate that into the language of action as well as other more official languages.
I have a lot of hope that people will use these incredible new tools to good use, but I have a feeling that most will want to shut them out and block them off in order to maintain the same instruction and jobs. The only way to face this technological wonder, is to face it head on and adapt. I hope we are up to the challenge.