Star Trek

The good news is the Internet has brought more people from across the globe together. The bad news is the Internet has brought more people from across the globe together. With hundreds of spoken languages, not to mention their dialects, it can be very difficult to communicate with one another. Historically, science fiction films and TV shows have dealt with this problem by using devices that can translate spoken words in to any needed language. While we may not be quite that advanced yet, the technologies which currently exist are impressive.

What are the available translation devices?

  • The device closest to the science fiction films is called Sigmo. It is a small device a user can wear around their neck. When needed, simply speak what you want translated into it, then press another button to select one of 25 languages for your words to be translated into. When you press send, the magic happens. Using Bluetooth and Cloud technology, your recording is sent out to services like Google Translate. Google translate can hear your voice and put together a translation and send it back to you. The entire process takes only seconds. This device is reasonably priced at around $50. To see a demonstration video about how Sigmo can be used click here.
  • TransTalk by Rantheon:

Rantheon has created a military application that translates from English to Afghanistan’s major languages and into Iraqi Arabic. The only drawback to this app, is that unlike the Sigmo, it “only” has vocabulary of 30,000 words in Afghani languages and 80,000 words in Iraqi Arabic. This still sounds very impressive even if other devices are more comprehensive. It also can translate into Malaysian and Indonesian.TransTalk targets military personnel who desperately need to communicate, often in unfriendly circumstances.

  • Ectaco Company

This company began by making electronic dictionaries but has evolved to include much more. Ectacco makes language learning software and games, as well as translation applications for virtually every device. They offer talking dictionaries, universal symbol software to communicate as well as electronic “pens” you drag across words you need translated. Ectacto’s products tend to assume you do not need to translate long sentences into another language, just words and phrases. But their primary focus looks to be creating applications and devices to help you learn a new language. Its product line is extensive and impressive.

  • Google Translate:

This free online program is sometimes heavily criticized for its translations. But if you need to translate fairly straight forward sentences (not slang or idioms), it works pretty well. For example, I tested it by translating from English into Spanish: “I need a new dishwasher” and it changed it to: Necesitounnuevolavavajillas. Thus, for basic everyday needs, it is hard to beat its accuracy for the cost (zero!), and you can access this on any mobile device as well. The Sigmo may be sleeker and more hip, and maybe it is a bit better, but it looks as if you can get virtually the same accuracy for free with Google Translate.

Language is a living thing with subtleties and nuances which are difficult even for a native speaker to explain, let alone program into an application.  Even the way a teenager speaks is radically different from an adult. Thus, if you are considering using a translation device, be sure to use standard forms of your language. Avoid expressions and odd verbs that have numerous meanings. By doing this, you will get a translation that will be useful. However the best translation will always be from a native speaker who can pick up on the subtle nuances used by the speaker.  In some ways the future is here and languages will no longer be a barrier to communication. It seems our modern Tower of Babel has been conquered.

Sebastian Anthony is a writer for ExtremeTech. Follow him on Twitter @Mrseb.

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