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Translation Technology Replicates Your Voice

Microsoft has been experimenting with some very interesting translation technology. For example, the company’s chief research and strategy officer, Craig Mundie, recently appeared on a computer screen in Beijing, speaking perfectly fluent Mandarin. Nothing unusual about that, except for the fact that the real Craig Mundie doesn’t speak Mandarin at all.

Instead, Microsoft has created a virtual clone of him that speak whatever language they want it to. Plus, as he explained to PCWorld, his avatar’s similarity to the real Craig Mundie is more than skin deep:

“What was spoken in Mandarin today I never recorded. But it is my voice. They have a computer model of my voice box.”  Read more

An Interesting Way to Learn Mandarin

There’s no doubt about it…learning Mandarin is challenging.  But one website thinks it may have stumbled upon a winning formula, at least if you’re a teenage boy.  At SexyMandarin.com, online Mandarin lessons are delivered by lingerie-clad “tutors” striking a variety of suggestive poses.

For example, one lesson, entitled “What Time is It?”, gives the viewer a brief rundown of how to ask and answer that question in Mandarin. Demonstrating proper pronunciation are two barely clothed female “models” who have apparently snuck away from their husbands for some “girl time.”

The idea of someone actually using these videos to learn Mandarin may seem about as far-fetched as the idea of actually reading Playboy for the articles, but their creator, Kaoru Kikuchi, said the scantily-clad females make the language more approachable. As he explained to the Telegraph,

“If you go the textbook way with all these Chinese characters it just makes you intimidated. If you start with the colloquial way … or sexy clips it is a different story.”

Meanwhile, producer Mick Gleissner admitted the project is ” kind of ridiculous but it’s also fun.”

Ridiculous, yes. Fun, perhaps. But will it actually help you learn Mandarin? Wu Yue, a teacher from Beijing’s Mandarin Connection school, told the Telegraph she doubted it would:

“It is very entertaining, and might be good for marketing and promotion, but [it is] not good for serious language learning,” she said. “Students would get easily distracted during a class featuring sexual content.”

And in the end, marketing and promotion seem to be exactly what these videos are all about. At the end of the videos,  you get the tagline “When you’re serious about learning Mandarin, head over to NewConceptMandarin.com,” a language school that offers DVDs, online classes and immersion courses, with nary a word about sexy Mandarin “tutors.”

China Says Linguistic Diversity “Not Important”

Over 1.3 billion people live in China, speaking a variety of different languages and dialects. To help unify such a diverse country, the government has long promoted the use of China’s official language, Mandarin. As a consequence, though, China’s linguistic diversity is fading. 88 Chinese languages are endangered, according to the Globe and Mail, and the Chinese government doesn’t seem particularly interested in preserving them.

The upcoming census could have been used to help quantify the problem, simply by asking respondents to select the languages they speak.  However, questions about language were not included in the form.

Chen Xizhou, a minority language expert from the Yunnan Institute for Nationalities, told the Globe and Mail:

“They didn’t ask about something that we really need to know, but they did ask how many houses people have and how many rooms. I don’t know why that is.”

It appears Chen Xizhou can stop wondering. Fang Nailin, the Vice Director of the census, answered that question for the Globe and Mail: the government simply decided that gathering the information was “not important.” Read more