The “laborious learning of foreign languages” may soon become unnecessary, thanks to the advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), according to Baden-Württemberg’s Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann. During a panel discussion marking the 75th anniversary of the German-French Institute, Kretschmann stated that in ten years, people will be able to use a device to translate languages simultaneously. He suggested focusing on learning English and relying on AI translation services for other languages. Kretschmann referred to this as a “super development to overcome language barriers.”
The Baden-Württemberg Association of Philologists (PhV), which represents language teachers in the state, reacted negatively to Kretschmann’s statements. The PhV leaders expressed their dismay and criticized the Prime Minister for his “mental aberrations and anti-educational mind games.” They argued that learning a language involves more than just translation and emphasized the importance of understanding language and culture.
The Education and Science Union (GEW) also disagreed with Kretschmann’s viewpoint, calling it a wrong signal. While acknowledging the usefulness of AI translation machines for basic communication, Frank Baasner, director of the German-French Institute, stressed that language learning goes beyond data transmission. It involves learning about a country and its culture, which cannot be replaced by AI. Baasner suggested rethinking language teaching in light of technological advancements.
Kretschmann himself later conceded that he does not intend to abolish French lessons entirely. He clarified that his statements were meant to spark a lively debate and provide food for thought. He also called for a comprehensive reform of the school system and emphasized the need to teach critical thinking and judgment in response to the challenges posed by generative AI.
In conclusion, while AI translation technology may simplify communication in the future, there are concerns about the potential drawbacks of relying solely on AI without considering the broader cultural and educational aspects of language learning. The debate continues regarding the role of AI in education and the need to adapt language teaching methods to incorporate technological advancements.