Interpretation anywhere

One of cutest and presumably sincere soft-kill press releases that has come my way is an announcement for a brand new telephone interpreting service from Switzerland called Babel800 .

The idea is hardly original, but the Swiss Family Crélérot are cunningly cashing in on the ubiquity of the mobile phone to offer fixed rate fairly cheap interpretation services in some 100 countries via a virtual network of bilinguals who can work from home, in the train or down the local bowling alley for 35 € an hour.

Professional AIIC interpreters will probably rage against this new machine, but it looks as if Babel800 are pitching the service to a much broader spectrum of potential users than the usual interpretation clientele of cadres: truck drivers in Hungary, tourists in Timbuktu and police and firefighters working on air accident sites could all in theory get emergency linguistic help over the phone at any time of the day or night.

You’d have to be a subscriber, of course, which means setting up an account in advance on the web. But until someone puts a brain in Phraselator, or that pie-in-the-sky European Multilingual Companion is unveiled (see my Aug 2 blog and Robin Bonthrone’s comment), Babel800 type services will be a better bet than your PDA dictionary or phrasebook when talking foreign.

I say ‘services’ because the competition is bound to grow in this area, now that mobile phones are so abundant and can take photos of menus and signs that can be sent to an interpreter for immediate translation, etc. And Babel800 really ought not to live up to its name, especially on its English website. Yes, we have no ‘informations’…

Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.

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