Google is developing software to translate languages as you speak on your phone, like a Google Voice/Google Translate mashup. Rather than working word-by-word, the tool will ‘listen’ to phrases and sentences before attempting translation, so it will know the full context and deliver a more accurate translation.
“We think speech-to-speech translation should be possible and work reasonably well in a few years’ time,” Franz Och, Google’s head of translation services, told the Sunday Times. “Clearly, for it to work smoothly, you need a combination of high-accuracy machine translation and high-accuracy voice recognition, and that’s what we’re working on.
Och goes on to explain that, like a pet, a person’s phone will become accustomed to its owner’s voice.
“Everyone has a different voice, accent and pitch, but recognition should be effective with mobile phones because by nature they are personal to you. The phone should get a feel for your voice from past voice search queries, for example.”
Our inner cynic says this could make for frustratingly slow-moving and expensive international phone calls, but we’re sure there are instances where it could come in very handy indeed. When you’re stranded and hotel-less in a foreign country and haven’t bothered learning the language, for example. Google reckons it will have a working system ready within a few years and how accurate this will be with regional dialects, varying accents and slang remains to be seen.