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Translation-Glasses

Glasses that Translate Speech?

It might sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but according to Reuters, a Japanese company is developing eyeglasses that can translate speech.

The Tele Scouter consists of a pair of eyeglass frames attached to a microphone and a small computer. A tiny display unit is mounted on to the frames. When someone talks to you in a foreign language, the microphone picks up the sound and sends it to be translated. Then, the translated text is sent back and projected into your peripheral vision, so you can read what the other person said while still maintaining eye contact.

Weird, huh? Kotaro Nagahama, a manager at NEC, the company that’s the developing the glasses, explained the potential advantages of the new technology to Reuters:
“With this you don’t have to think about having to translate your own words. All you have to do is speak and you don’t have to do any thinking. You just use your own language.”

Unfortunately, according to PinkTentacle.com, at this point the devices’ translation capabilities are “insufficient for real-world applications.” So, at least for now, the company is focusing on selling the device to businesses and factories, which can use as a hands-free data display device for workers.

Also, it should be noted that even if the devices’ translation capabilities were spot-on, in order for it to truly useful for travelers, both you and the person you are speaking to need to have a pair of these magic glasses. Unless the company plans to incorporate a way to display what you are saying to the other person in their own language, the Tele Scouter appears to only translate one side of the conversation.  According to Reuters, NEC plans to sell the Tele Scouter for a whopping $83,000, so it’s not likely to gain widespread adoption anytime soon.

What do you think-will this idea ever become more than science fiction?

Translation by Siri

Siri may have difficulty understanding English when it is spoken in a Scottish accent, but Apple’s virtual personal assistant now has another trick up her sleeve: translation.

A team of developers recently introduced an app called Lingual, which turns Siri into your own personal translator, allowing your iPhone to translate spoken words and phrases into 30 different languages. All you have to do is ask Siri “How do you say “_____” in “_____?” and a translation will appear on your screen in the language of your choice.

Before you venture off to another country with your iPhone in hand, though, there are a few drawbacks to consider. The first, as reported by The Verge, is the simple fact that Lingual’s translation capabilities are far from perfect.

“We installed the tweak and can report that it works flawlessly, quickly pulling in results using Microsoft’s Bing Translate API as a backend. Its only limitation is that backend, which isn’t as strong as Google’s offering, and regularly fails to correctly translate phrases.”

Poor translation is a pretty big limitation, isn’t it? Google Translate has issues enough, so you may want to think twice before relying on this app as your sole means of communication.

Another potential issue: in order to use Lingual, you must jailbreak your iPhone if you haven’t done so already. Not that big of a deal, but it does make installation a bit more complicated than simply firing up the app store and downloading it.

Finally, if you are travelling, you may be charged extra for using data while roaming. That means that you may end up paying an arm and a leg for Lingual’s translation services when you get back home – not a good way to end a vacation! It’s not as flashy, but you might be better served by downloading a translation application that is stored on your phone and doesn’t require access to your carrier’s data network.

Translation Gone Wild: 5 Translation Mistakes from 2017

Over the past year, machine translation has made significant progress. Tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are building powerful Neural Machine Translation (NMT) systems modeled after the human brain.

NMT offers improved accuracy compared to older machine translation systems. To hear the headlines tell it, that means all of our translation problems are solved. Who needs a human translator when you’ve got artificial intelligence?

But if that were true, we wouldn’t have these amusing translation mistakes to share with you, would we?

Google Can’t Translate the South African Parliament


Voice-to-text translation sounds amazing, in theory. Just speak into a microphone, wait a few seconds, and “Voila!” The system automatically translates your words, and you don’t even have to lift a finger.

And it is amazing when it works. But therein lies the rub. Regional accents and dialects can throw these systems off.

For example, the video above shows what happens when Google tries to translate a South African Parliament session.

Read more

Twitter Enters the Murky World of Machine Translation

Twitter Enters the Murky World of Machine Translation

Last week you may have heard, or even seen, that Twitter has been trialling automated translation of tweets from certain individuals in Egypt. Following the recent political upheaval, the former president Mohammed Morsi, opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei and Arab Spring activist Wael Ghonim have all had tweets made available to non-Arabic speaking readers.

Read more

Twitter Expands Use of Bing Translation

To celebrate the beginning of the World Cup in Brazil, Twitter has begun using Bing Translation to make it easier to read tweets in other languages.

The translation feature was already available on the Twitter webpage and Windows phones, and Twitter began testing it on its Android app a couple of weeks ago. Now, it’s been made available on the iOS app for Apple devices. That should cover most smartphone users, with the exception of the last few stubborn BlackBerry users.

Currently, to translate a tweet from the one of the mobile apps, you have to exit the timeline by clicking on the individual tweet. However,  Twitter also just made it easier to translate tweets on its webpage directly in the timeline. Now, all you have to do is click on the grey globe icon in the top right corner of the tweet, and you’ll get an option to view the translation. The translation appears below the original tweet.

According to CNET:

“The changes could increase Twitter’s already considerable utility and influence as a global communications medium. People use Twitter not just to find about about sporting events in Brazil, but also political protests in Turkey, elections in Europe, and civil war in Syria.”

While machine translation is the only realistic option for a service like Twitter, it’s important to keep in mind that machine translation is far from perfect at this point.  Combine that with how quickly information and misinformation alike spread on Twitter, and it will be interesting to see what happens. I predict that in the months to come, we’ll have plenty of examples of both the potential and the pitfalls of this technology.

What do you think of Twitter’s new translation options?

Translation in Your Own Voice

At a presentation in China, Microsoft recently demonstrated an improved machine translation technology that allows for real-time translation in your own voice. Using the system, Microsoft’s Chief Research Officer Rick Rashid was able to give a presentation in Chinese in his own voice, even though he doesn’t speak the language.

How does it work? Prompted by the attention his presentation generated, Rashid wrote a blog post to explain the technology behind the system:

“In my presentation, I showed how we take the text that represents my speech and run it through translation- in this case, turning my English into Chinese in two steps. The first takes my words and finds the Chinese equivalents, and while non-trivial, this is the easy part. The second reorders the words to be appropriate for Chinese, an important step for correct translation between languages.”

To more accurately perform the first step of the process, Microsoft is using a technique called Deep Neural Networks, which it says mimics the patterns of the human brain to make speech recognition more accurate. One caveat: the Deep Neural Networks technology may be better at recognizing words, but it’s still no substitute for the brain of a skilled interpreter. As Rashid wrote:

“We have been able to reduce the word error rate for speech by over 30% compared to previous methods. This means that rather than having one word in 4 or 5 incorrect, now the error rate is one word in 7 or 8…Of course, there are still likely to be errors in both the English text and the translation into Chinese, and the results can sometimes be humorous. Still, the technology has developed to be quite useful.”

While this technology is amazing and will definitely have its uses in the future, I doubt it will replace the knowledge and understanding that a trained translator brings to the job any time soon. What do you think?

Talking Business: How to Avoid a Translation Fail

Some phrases just don’t translate-especially when you are relying on a computer to do the heavy lifting. The International Trade website has published a list of English business phrases that don’t translate well, and it illustrates this point beautifully.

Take, for example, the common English expression “give me a ballpark figure.” Translated into Russian literally, as a computer would do it, you get “Give to me the diagram of the baseball stadium.” Unless you’re in the baseball stadium construction business, that simply won’t do. In Spanish, “We’ll hit the ground running” turns into a phrase that brings to mind an action movie: “We will strike the earth operation.” The best of the bunch is probably the literal Chinese translation of the phrase “We need to get our ducks in a row.” Once translated, it becomes “We need to obtain our duck continuously.” What?!?!

So, how do you avoid sounding like an idiot when you deal with foreign clients? The best course of action is to avoid machine translation if at all possible-it simply isn’t reliable enough yet. If you do need to use machine translation for a business project, write in simple language, avoiding metaphors, figurative language, jargon and colloquial expressions.

Richard Brooks, General Manager of UK based translation firm K International, has the following advice for UK businesses:

“Idioms are common place in workplaces across Britain and its fine (within reason) to use them in your local marketing activities. The tricky part comes in when you need to translate that message for use in another region.

Computers (at the moment) simply cannot understand the real meaning behind these idioms. For copy, that when translated is intended to convert potentially interested parties into sales revenue then a real human being must be used in the translation process.

For the best results recreating your message for use in another country a service such as transcreation should be used which includes incountry testing and cultural focus groups.

Get it right and you’ll have a winning marketing campaign that will spread like wildfire (excuse the idiom) in the blogs and social media networks, get it wrong and people will think you’re an idiot”

Assuming you have a competent interpreter, human-powered translation is always superior because human interpreters recognize expressions like these and know how to translate them appropriately to convey the correct meaning.

Translation Value

Translation: Price is what you pay, Value is what you get

Picture the scene, it’s the weekend, the sun is shining, not a cloud in the sky, a perfect day for a leisurely drive. About an hour into your jaunt around the local country roads, you notice a strange clunking sound coming from under the bonnet. It looks like a trip to the garage is in order. Once you get home you call the guy (or girl) you always call when your car needs attention. You drop it off at the garage and wait for the workshop to call, what are the first three things you want to learn from that call?… Most people would likely answer along the lines of “can they fix it, what is it going to cost and how long is it going to take”, probably in that order.

Now you are probably wondering what going for a drive and suffering an impending breakdown has to do with anything, well I’ll get to that. About a year ago I was talking to a chap in a pub, the best stories always start with that line right? His name is Dave, you wouldn’t say he was anything out of the ordinary, casually dressed, glasses, drives a van, all very run of the mill, he wouldn’t mind me saying that he’d probably agree. Anyway, I sat at the bar waiting for my friends to finally show up and just happened to strike up a conversation with him. He told me about how he works in a garage and has done probably longer than I’ve been alive, another classic line from the book of pub stories huh. Dave’s customers go through exactly the same ritual as I had you imagine at the beginning, but when it comes to that phone call, his customers have slightly different expectations. Read more

human translation vs machine translation

A Translation Showdown: Man vs Machine Translation

Computer scientists began trying to solve the problem of machine translation in the 1950s.  Since then, both the availability and quality of machine translation have improved tremendously. But in the battle of human translation vs machine translation, are humans now expendable?

Some scientists working on machine translation claim that with recent improvements, algorithms are almost as good at translation as humans.  And when the subject of “jobs that will soon be taken over by robots” comes up, futurists almost always put “translation” in the crosshairs.

But what happens when machines take on human translators? Earlier this month, Sejong Cyber University and the International Interpretation and Translation Association of Korea decided to find out. 3 machine translation programs went up against a group of human translators. It was a translation showdown: human translation vs machine translation.

Man versus machine, the translation industry’s version of the famous contest between John Henry and the steam-powered hammer  Guess who won? Read more

Machine Translation Versus Human Translation: A Professional Weighs In

Which is better, machine-powered translation or human-powered translation? In this weekend’s New York Times, David Bellos, the director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication at Princeton University, weighs in.

Bellos points out that  both machines and humans make mistakes in translation. While we like to joke about the fallacy of relying on a machine to translate all the different nuances of language, translators who are poorly trained or are working too hard make errors, too.

Machine Translation

Bellos notes that machine translation is well-suited to situations where there are not enough translators or interpreters available and translations don’t have to be perfect to be usable. For example, machine translation was extremely helpful for emergency personnel on the ground in Haiti.

However, machine translation relies on either a dictionary of words or their meanings combined with the rules of grammar that can be used to combine them or on comparing the text being translated to other, similar texts that have already been translated. Neither method is 100% accurate, especially when it comes to translating literature, creative writing and figures of speech.  Even Google Translate, which has access to all of the literature contained in Google’s considerable library of books, often comes up with gibberish when faced with literary translations.

Sure, computers don’t get tired, and they don’t base their performance on whether or not they are being paid a decent salary. But, as Bellos notes:

“Machine translation is not conceived or programmed to take into account the purpose, real-world context or style of any utterance. “

In situations in which an accurate translation is a must, a qualified human translator who is familiar with the nuances of both languages and cultures will beat a machine every time-even if the machine has all the power of Google behind it.