You Can't Rely on Google Translate (But Learning a Language as an Adult is Bloody Hard)

By James O Malley on at

A couple of weeks ago YouTuber Tom Scott pointed out the perils of machine translation, and why Google Translate can often struggle to figure out exactly what we mean.

Unfortunately, it turns out the struggle can be similar for humans. In his latest video, Tom has turned his focus to the question of how we learn languages, and why is it so bloody difficult once you're an adult.

The answer, it seems, is in our brains and what is called "categorical perception": once we've learned a language (like English) our brains learn what types of sounds to listen for – and consequently will essentially tune out anything we're not used to. The example in the video is in the Indian sub-continent there's a difference between "p" and "ph"; the latter a more "aspirated" pronunciation which non-native ears will have to listen incredibly closely to in order to pick up. Essentially, if you can read this then it is probably far too late for you to properly learn another language. Sorry.

Hopefully in Tom's next video he'll tell us why posh people who know Latin are so relentlessly condescending.