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February 2020

Is Real-time Language Translation a Reality?

An update on advances in language translation technology

In the world of Star Trek, aliens across the galaxy can come together to converse as if they all spoke the same language. This seamless real-time language translation isn’t just a convenient television filming mechanic, it’s also a dream for many techno-linguists around the world.

Imagine travelling to a foreign country and being able to understand everyone without ever having picked up a textbook on the local language. Many technologies and devices today promote just this. From artificial intelligence (AI) assistants to in-ear buds, live language translation is fast becoming a reality.

Everbrilliant Supreme

Perhaps most exciting for travellers is the idea of real-time language translation in the form of an in-ear wireless earpiece. Such devices remain in your ear, untethered by any wires. It listens to foreign phrases and translates them into your ear, much like having a United Nations translator at the other end of the line.

The Everbrilliant Supreme is an example of such a device. It touts real-time language translation of over 30 languages. Whether the conversation is face to face or in a meeting, it boasts that it can translate everything for you.

Some reviewers have said that it doesn’t quite hold up in busy, fast-paced conversations. But while you may not find much use for these in a busy bar environment, they ought to hold up well in a professional or one-on-one scenario.

VEEDEO

For business professionals, VEEDEO offers browser- and mobile-based virtual meetings with real-time language translation. Supposedly it can translate over 120 languages, which is truly impressive and justifies the cost. Automatic meeting transcripts are generated for review, which is very handy in a workplace environment.

VEEDEO uses Google Cloud technology, so it’s powered by the makers of Google Translate. Most of us are already familiar with Google Translate and its limitations. While it has improved vastly over the years, it still commits its errors. Those familiar with audio transcription services also understand the fallbacks that AI can have, often incorrectly translating out-of-context words when dealing with just one language, let alone translating between languages.

That said, VEEDEO seems to have good reviews for its offerings, so it may be an optimal choice for workplace conferencing. This brings into discussion the context of live language translation; some devices work perfectly for some scenarios, but to offer one solution for all opens up the great challenge.

One company endeavors to meet it.

Google

As more devices (like VEEDEO) rely on Google technologies, it goes to show that the company behind Google Translate is leading the pack. Now the company’s wireless earphones, the Pixel Buds, include Google Assistant, Google’s AI service. Google Assistant’s ability to translate languages in real time crosses over to all Google Assistant products, from the in-ear buds to Google home devices. This cross-platform functionality allows for the implementation of real-time language translation across many different scenarios.

In the end, it comes down to software. While all the hardware is already here to handle real-time translation, the software may not yet be up to par. A 2018 (albeit now dated) article in Wired suggested that live-translation software only works as it should with basic phrases, while struggling with more complicated sentences. With the recent advancements in Google translation technology, this may be less an issue than dealing with many conversations happening at once, as in a real-life social situation.

So professional language translators ought not find fear in the burgeoning technology, even with recent advances, as AI isn’t yet up to par on translating subtlety in language. Still, for most travelers who just want to know where the toilet is, these devices ought to work just fine.

Have you tried any live translation software or devices? Did they meet your expectations for your needs? Let us know on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” telc English for more articles on language from around the world.

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