Google’s Translation Gets Mouthy

Google’s translation services are making the news this week with improvements to a smartphone app which now attempts to translate voices rather than text (hopefully more accurately than in our illustration.)

The app, titled Google Translate (which is also the name of the firm’s website translation tool), is designed for users visiting a foreign country. Instead of resorting to phrasebooks or online dictionaries, the idea is to simply ask the person you are conversing with to talk into the phone. The app then attempts to recognize what has been said and then “speaks” an English translation. It can also work in reverse, translating your speech into a foreign language.

Although the app already existed and could handle text, this is the first time it has worked with speech. At the moment it can handle speech in English, Mandarin (the most common language in China) and Japanese, though other languages including German are in the works. According to the Los Angeles Times, the speech feature “works surprisingly well for translating basic phrases”.

As we noted last year, NEC is working on a similar service which involves the user wearing special spectacles, meaning that as well as hearing the translation, they can see the words as subtitles. That’s not likely to reach as wide an audience though: the spectacles, which are currently designed for making it easier for technicians to see pages from repair manuals without using their hands, cost more than $2,500 and won’t have the translation feature until next year.

The Google app improvements follow on from the announcement last week that a translation feature is to be built directly into the Chrome browser. Users visiting a webpage marked in a language other than English (or whichever language they have set as default) will be offered a one click button to see the page translated.

It uses the same technology as the Google Translate service, but doesn’t require any cut-and-pasting of either the text or the URL. The service is based around a database of 20 million words worth of United Nations documents. That’s particularly reliable as those documents have been officially translated into six languages by expert UN translators. The service has also used documents from the European Parliament on a similar basis.

(Picture courtesy of Flickr user Xiaming.)

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