Computers translating voice; Phones translating text

Microsoft’s Translating Telephone and Google’s Goggles turn the tables on what devices normally do.

The lines blur. In fact, there are no lines anymore. We’ve been using our computers to help us talk to people all over the world for some time now. But now, at this week’s TechFair in Mountain View, California, Microsoft is demonstrating a “Translating Telephone” that allows users to speak in their own language, have the spoken words converted to text, translated, and then converted to speech for the listener. And, for the morbidly curious, the words are then back translated so the original speaker might get a hint as to what words were put in his/her mouth.



From computers as phones we go to phones as computers. With Google Goggles on Android phones has now added translations. If you spot some foreign language text you don’t know the meaning of, take a picture of the text and then you can translate the text into a choice of languages. While the app doesn’t support non-Latin script languages, it would certainly be a help in restaurants!

What does all this translation technology for the common masses mean? An interesting comment in a Fast Company post about the Translating Telephone was: “The translator, which automatically trains itself to recognize your voice, is approximately 80% accurate. But in the translation demo we watched between a native English speaker and a native German speaker, the system was accurate enough to be almost entirely understandable–and that was with two people speaking quickly in a crowded room.” Finally, people are getting the gist of gist translations!

Donna Parrish
Publisher of MultiLingual, Donna Parrish is also co-organizer of the LocWorld conferences. Coming into the language industry from a background of mathematics and computer programming, she has an appreciation for the wizardry of language technology and an awe for linguists.

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