A Virtuous Loop: Foreign Entertainment and A.I. Tech for Language Learning

The globalization of pop culture and the increasing accessibility of A.I.-enabled technologies are paving the way for better language learning.

The same technology that has brought the world closer together is also enhancing our efforts at communication and appreciation of one another across lines of language and culture. Unsplash+

It’s a transformative time for global culture. Not long ago, icons like Buddy Holly and Madonna could encapsulate the musical zeitgeist with their distinctly American sounds. Today, the landscape has drastically expanded—global voices from K-pop to Bollywood are defining the rhythm of contemporary life, reflecting a vibrant, interconnected planet. This globalization of pop culture, in part facilitated by technological advances, has brought us closer together. The internet, smartphones and cheap (or free) media-editing apps have made it as likely that the next pop sensation or genius director will emerge from Uganda or Uruguay as it would be from the United States or the United Kingdom. 

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Take, for example, the rise of K-pop, Korean movies like Parasite and TV shows like Squid Games. This cultural phenomenon has sparked a remarkable trend: an increase in learners eager to master Korean, motivated by a desire to connect more deeply with the music and dramas they love. Research confirms that when interest in language classes had flatlined, U.S. college enrollment in Korean language classes rose 78 percent from 2009 to 2016. The motivation cited: K-pop.

“They are learning Korean to become more involved in their interest in Korean popular culture, whether that is television, music or cinema, or they’re learning Korean as a language that will allow them to pursue some goals they might have working with Korean companies in Asia,” Michelle Cho, an assistant professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto, told NPR.

In a recent study conducted by Live the Language (LTL) institute, the school pointed to the popularity of K-pop, K-dramas and Hallyu (Korean wave phenomenon) as likely factors for Korean becoming the second-most popular Asian language that Americans want to learn. This trend is not confined to the Korean language. A wide variety of “foreign” entertainment—music, film, television and other art—is increasingly piquing the curiosity of English speakers. English is no longer the sole lingua franca of entertainment, and fans crave an authentic connection with the art they engage with, often through mastery of a second language.

How Technology and the Arts Tag-Team to Optimize Language Learning

More than just a simple human instinct to seek fraternal bonds and mutual human understanding, the beauty of this movement lies in its mutual benefits. The same technology that has brought the world closer together is also enhancing our efforts at communication and appreciation of one another across lines of language and culture. And the delightful irony? The global artists that are fueling curiosity and interest abroad are also among the tools being used to build secondary language skills that allow for a fuller appreciation of their art. Consider it an international entertainer’s admiration infinity loop.

Thanks to technological advancements, and particularly the rise of artificial intelligence and A.I.-based programs like Memrise, the ability to optimize language learning through music, film and similar art forms is now literally at our fingertips. Both the number of apps and programs and their ease of access are greater than ever. Many are free, and nearly all are available to anyone with a computer or smartphone and a wifi connection. And because A.I. and deep-learning models detect areas of weakness and identify the best paths to learning based on each user’s response patterns, these new technologies tailor lesson plans and optimize individual results in a way that would make your seventh-grade Spanish teacher green with envy.

In this case, the age-old chicken-or-the-egg question is entirely irrelevant: Whether you are drawn to a new language by the works of Shakira, Bong Joon-ho, BLACKPINK, Sterlin Harjo or Ghada Abdel Aal, or whether your embrace of the language leads you to a deeper appreciation of those artists, it is, on some level, a blend of global arts and burgeoning technology that have paved your path to a greater understanding of the world around you.

A Virtuous Loop: Foreign Entertainment and A.I. Tech for Language Learning