Speaking My Language

Photo from Unsplash by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona


Despite the fast paced changes of society in recent years, that can be seen as both negative and positive; there is something to be excited about: the race to space. 

For years, the space industry has been focused on researching and understanding different galaxies beyond our universe. However, as of recently we are seeing a rise in interest to travel into space by both the private and government sectors. Elon Musk is trying to build the first successful space colony on Mars with flight tickets going out in late 2026 (subject to change check the website for all updates). NASA is currently working on a project to land the first woman on the moon and is hoping to make space tourism sustainable by the year 2028. While these are all exciting goals for mankind to look forward to, we tend to forget about possible encounters with different species and the potential barriers; to be more specific, understanding what the hell they are saying half the time. 

Language is a very complex system that human beings have used for years to help us communicate our inner thoughts. So much so that we have over 300 languages spoken today and approximately half of the population can speak two or more languages. With that in mind, who is to say that we are prepared to communicate with them? Who is to say that there are not any alien languages that we will all have to understand in order to join the ranks of space? We have seen in history that language barriers have caused problems in society, we may end up repeating history in a different environment if we are not careful. We have seen this in the past with numerous historic examples such as European expansion into the Americas, Africa, and Asia. The language barrier was a major key factor for colonization and while we as a species have managed to move past this and have become more open to understanding the language of others, we do often still have issues understanding one another especially in this day and age with numerous mediums. 

If anything, we can state that this is a time for us to improve our language and communication skills amongst each other as mankind prepares for our next giant step into the stars. 

IAutism

Photo by Possessed Photography on Unsplash

Can artificial intelligence be the next leading advancement for those with disabilities?

In the year 2021, the world has progressed to help accommodate those who operate in a nuerodiverse manner in society. In fact, progress still continues to this day to help improve their lives from therapy to advanced technology. Currently, science has started to look at a new method to help improve the social & communication skills of those on the spectrum, artificial intelligence. 

Humans have always been social creatures that feed off each other’s energies. For those with autism who experience higher levels of anxiety when interacting with a new person, it can cause social interactions to be extremely difficult; as well as cause problems for them to operate in the workforce. Without a doubt, everyone is slowly becoming aware that artificial intelligence will be integrated into a number of career and education fields. Therefore, taking some of the anxieties that come with human interaction away and allowing new doors to open for those with autism to interact with the world. 

One of the latest technologies that is utilizing artificial intelligence for children with autism is the QTrobot. QTrobot was designed by LuxAI and has a unique built in operating system that can be programmed to suit every child’s needs. With the stigma that comes with nonverbal communication when having human interactions eliminated, QTrobot is able to vividly and clearly display different emotions that help build social skills that can then be applied to real world human interaction. 

Children on the autism spectrum would work alongside the QTrobot & a trained specialist to help them progress at a quicker pace to help them adjust to school and the workplace. QTrobot can also be programmed to help children with autism desensitize from over stimulating situations. To make a personal connection with the use of AI and autism, my own sister has been more inclined to use her verbal communication skills when she has interacted with Amazon’s Alexa, which does whatever she commands it to do which I think she is fascinated with. With this new technology incorporated into early intervention of children with autism, we could accelerate their progression to adjust to society. 

Along with having the assistance of AI that will be implemented in a number of work areas, we can expect more ASD friendly career choices to emerge to give opportunities that we have never seen before. 

Source: Lexi.com

Socioeconomic Disparities in Second Language Education in the United States

Classroom

Photo by Matt Hoffman on Unsplash

With the rise of the travel industry as well as the interest in modern languages, we can anticipate a drastic increase in multilingualism in the nearby future. According to iLangugues.org, 60% of the world identifies as bilingual/trilingual/multilingual while the remaining 40% identifying as monolingual in predominately English-speaking countries. With other languages gaining recognition on the world stage, eventually only knowing English will not be enough to succeed in most career fields. So, this presents the following questions: How did we get here? And how can we improve second language education in the nearby future?

English is the 3rd most spoken language in the world behind Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. This is heavily due to the Age of Imperialism during the 19th century with Great Britain leading the pact; with that the English language was spread widely to the world. After heavy colonization in the 19th century, the next contributing factor to the dominance of the English language was the boom of Hollywood and pop culture in the United States post-World War 2. Not only were goods being exported, but so was the English language. Due to the heavy influence of the English language on an international scale, majority of schools in predominately English-speaking countries did not heavily enforce second language education. However, because of the overwhelming priority of the English language, most countries where it is primarily spoken have a history of attacking people who speak a language other than English in public. In an article from The Washington Post titled Half the World is Bilingual. What’s Our Problem? 22% of Hispanic speakers have experienced harassment for speaking Spanish in public. Those who speak languages other than Spanish have also experienced similar instances including glares, whispers, and stares. While this began to create an “English only” environment in English speaking countries, others had to heavily enforce the English language into their curriculum in order for their citizens to succeed on both national and international scales. This also presents the next problem in foreign language education: accessibility.

It is no secret that the public education system in the United States has a variety of issues from being underfunded, overcrowded, etc. However, what is not talked about is access to second language education. According to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, approximately less than 20% of students in the United States are given the opportunity to take a foreign language class at the K-12 level. This is heavily due to the fact that the United States is experiencing a teacher shortage for educators who meet the standards to teach a second language. In countries like South Korea and Japan, they have created English instructor programs (EPIK & JET) to bring in foreign teachers who come from countries where English is primarily spoken such as the United States, South Africa, Canada, the United Kingdom, etc. The goal of these programs is to have children in the public education system be fully immersed in the English language with someone who will only speak that language with them. This also helps hit that critical period of a child being exposed to another language by the age of 10 years old. This is only speaking for the public education system in America, majority of private schools begin language immersion in kindergarten with students beginning to study Spanish, Chinese, or French. However, most private schools’ range between $10,000-$50,000 a year; with only a lucky few being able to afford the price tag. This leads us to the final issue the education system when it pertains to foreign language courses: the cost.

With students in the public education system getting a late start in learning a second language, some may choose to study a language at university, but find the cost of studying a foreign language to be one of the biggest barriers. In an article titled, Which College Major Has the Most Expensive Books? A second language textbook was the second most expensive book averaging around $268 per book; this does not include the online software code that is normally required in all foreign language courses that ranges from $50-$150. With many jobs asking or requiring a person to have a working knowledge of a language other than English, some students feel pressure to learn one to help their chances in the workforce. Psychology Today, even cited that bilingualism has improved memory, cognitive flexibility, and the ability to multitask. In recent years, colleges offering romantic language and modern languages as a major for students to choose from, those who choose to go down this route will be forced to pay a heavy price tag on top of an already expensive education system. College tuition in the United States is already expensive as it is on top of room & board, meal plans, computer fees, etc. If we are seeing a trend that students could benefit by acquiring a second or third language, why can’t we make it so that students do not need to sell their kidneys in order to achieve this? As we look to the future, how are some ways that we can improve this? The obvious answer is to invest in our public education system to give our students the best possible education. We could possibly consider creating a program similar to what South Korea and Japan have established; bring native speakers of the language a school is interested in providing to their students to teach the children. This could also open the door for students to not have to automatically learn Spanish as a second language due to its overwhelming popularity in the United States. Speakers from French, Portuguese, Italian, German, Chinese, and Arabic countries could share their knowledge with young students and expose them to their culture as well. Another change that could improve language education would be a shift in attitude towards languages other than English. There is still a negative stigma that lingers around people who speak a language other than English in public spaces; rather than feeling like we need to know what someone is saying all the time, maybe it is time for people to just simply mind their own business and let people talk. We also need to change the way that we criticize those with accents; rather than discourage people by the way they sound, we need to start praising people for their efforts because we all recognize that learning a second language comes with its own set of challenges. While we begin to see rapid changes in our education system amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we can only hope that we will see changes in second language education in the long run as we try to navigate ways to provide students with the necessary tools to succeed in the world.