Throughout history, an unfathomable number of languages have appeared and disappeared, and have been used by humans at different times and places throughout the evolution of civilization. Some languages manage to adapt, disperse and survive the passage of time. Others are not so lucky, and their usage becomes lost until they eventually die out. These are called dead languages, that is, languages that are no longer used, whether as a result of linguistic substitution, evolution of the language into new languages, or even the disappearance of their speakers as a result of war, epidemics or other factors. When a language no longer has any native speakers, the language dies, even if it is still written or learned as a second language.
At least this was the reality up until the last millennium. Nowadays, technological advances suggest that soon enough, living languages can become immortal. The Voyager probe, for example, which was launched in 1977, contains a gold record with recordings in the most representative languages of our civilization. And it continues to travel uninterruptedly through space and time.
With all the new teaching methodologies—online classes, interactive applications and videos, pronunciation guides, recordings and films—it’s easy to imagine that in the next ten or fifteen years there will be “virtual teachers” who will be able to teach us any language we want to learn. And if the children of the future are exposed to these language learning programs at an early age (robots, holograms, etc.), then the students will learn these languages at a native level, without the need of a human being. In this way, speakers can disappear, but as long as the technology applied to the teaching of languages remains available, then languages can lose their fear of extinction and endure for all eternity. Maybe it sounds a bit futuristic at this moment in history, at the turn of this new millennium, but maybe we’ll soon be in for a surprise, and see, first hand, that this possibility is closer to our reality than we think.