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Language Translation Tech Starts to Deliver on Its Promise


Sebastian Cuberos, on the laptop, demonstrated a newly announced Microsoft Skype program that simultaneously translated Spanish and English with his interviewer, seated at his desk, in San Francisco.

Sebastian Cuberos, on the laptop, demonstrated a newly announced Microsoft Skype program that simultaneously translated Spanish and English with his interviewer, seated at his desk, in San Francisco.

Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

 

The tech industry is doing its best to topple the Tower of Babel.

Last month, Skype, Microsoft’s video calling service, initiated simultaneous translation between English and Spanish speakers. Not to be outdone, Google will soon announce updates to its translation app for phones. Google Translate now offers written translation of 90 languages and the ability to hear spoken translations of a few popular languages. In the update, the app will automatically recognize if someone is speaking a popular language and automatically turn it into written text.

Certainly, the technology of turning one tongue to another can still be downright terrible – or "downright herbal," as I purportedly said on a test of Skype. The service also required a headset and worked best if a speaker paused to hear what the other person had said. The experience was a little as if two telemarketers were using walkie-talkies.

But those complaints are churlish compared with what also seemed like a fundamental miracle: Within minutes, I was used to the process and talking freely with a Colombian man about his wife, children and life in Medellín (or "Made A," as Skype first heard it, but it later got it correctly). The single biggest thing that separates us — our language — had started to disappear.

 

 

From The New York Times
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