So this thought has been lingering in my mind for a while now. Gene Roddenberry had a point when he introduced the concept of universal translator in the Star Trek universe. I remember having a conversation with my supervisor at grad school about this. He told me that he thought one such device could change the world, solve a lot of the current challenges in a modern society and even prevent wars. I didn’t delve into this thought any further in those days. However, I now think that he did indeed had a good point.
If you think about it, often we spend so many years of our lives trying to master a language not spoken by our parents. Every day, we ardently try hard to make this ‘foreign’ language our ‘mother tongue’. We spend hours thinking how we can perfect our understanding and command over this language. We read books, write letters and even converse among ourselves in this language from very early stages of our schooling (kindergarden in my case), all aimed at improving our understanding of this language. But why? Why learn it? Why spend so much energy, passion, time, money, thinking into mastering a skill that is completely orthogonal to what we really want to do in our lives? For example, a student aspiring to pursue graduate studies in a primariliy English speaking country, such as US, Canada, UK or Australia is required to prove her or his proficiency in English through scores in such exams such as TOEFL, GRE and IELTS, regardless of her or his aera of study. I have seen my friends spend hours and hours, days and even months preparing for these exams. I have also done the same. Sometimes even scores in these exams are not enough. In spite of having a relatively high score, you might experience difficulties because of your ‘weird’ ascent. But why? Why learn 5000 words of a foreign language that none of your parents ever spoke or felt comfortable with? What is accomplished by such hard work? Nothing. Does your first language indeed change by doing all this? No. Would you have rather preferred to study something that is closer to your heart, like engineering, math, science, arts? Yes. Do you really become one of those who were born to English speaking parents? No.
So a universal translator is indeed a useful device. Why ever learn more than one language? Why does English has to be the language for all? You need to learn one language through which you can express your thoughts and understand other’s thoughts. Thoughts, feelings and expressions should flow easily and smoothly across people of different mother tongue. There should be no stupid exams asking subtle meanings of some arcane words of a particular language. Exams such as TOEFL, IELTS and GRE would not be necessary. People should be able to do what they love, regardless of what they speak. This is important, this is fair.
I hope some brilliant guy from a top school does get to invent the device. I hope they do it soon. I hope I am able to see the change it can bring to our society and our thinking before I die. At least, I hope so …