Dial T for Translation
Toshiba have announced its newest development in mobile phone technology – an automatic real-time translation application for use with its TG01 smartphone. Voice recognition and automatic translation software will soon be available for handsets in order to provide translations in both text and audio formats.
Three languages are currently supported – Japanese, English and Chinese – and according to PC World, the application uses statistical or rule-based machine translation to break sentences down into components for translation and a speech synthesis engine to output the result. The software is already available for PC but to function on a mobile phone, every process is subject to a 32MB size limit. Toshiba’s research department have confirmed that it will soon be available to the commercial market.
Automatic translation tools are always a hot topic in the language world and last year’s notable innovations included the Tele Scouter (the ‘translation’ glasses); the updated Google Translate which provided real-time automatic translation with an audio option; and automatic speech recognition (ASR) software for YouTube videos. This year, Google also launched the Nexus One phone which is interesting from a language perspective in that one of its features allows users to choose whether to listen to voicemails audibly or convert them into written text.
The accuracy of any machine translation can be affected by a number of factors: regional accents which cause variations in pronunciation and thereby affect the translation outcome; inability to convey tone of voice; idiomatic expressions and slang; metaphors, similes and humour; proper nouns; and cultural transposition. However, there is no denying that for stock phrases or generic conversations, these machines appear to be quite adequate and do exactly as they say on the package. But in business, legal or medical situations where accuracy is paramount, there can be no substitute for human translators and interpreters. Nevertheless, for emergency services or aid workers, having easy access to such machine translation on their mobile phones could be a vital tool in bridging the language gap in critical situations.
As a basic aid to communication and taking into account the future implications for medical staff and humanitarian workers, the Toshiba application could certainly become a true lifesaver, rather than a mere lifestyle gadget.