This is a third of five posts where I will talk about some technologies that may change how we live, work and play. They are personal opinion and I could very well be wrong. I mention them sometimes in conference presentations and workshops and wanted to describe my thinking more in this series of short posts.
The third technology that I think will change how we live, work, play and learn is on-line translator tools. I first talked about this in my keynote at the Aberdeenshire Glow Champion Event in May 2010. Let me explain my thinking.
Do you recognize this?
It’s a babel fish. You might remember it from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (I still think the original BBC radio show was best…. but I digress!). The babel fish was a fish that you could put into your ear and then when people spoke to you in a different language the fish would translate what ever they said into English (or your first language).
Anyway, software has been around for years that claims to translate between languages. But Google translate is a good example of a piece of free web based software that actually works and it works really well.
This is what it looks like when you run it though Google Translate:
It is almost 100% accurate. Now you might be thinking that Microsoft would just re-direct to their UK version of the page. So, I tried it again with an article on Julien Llanas blog that I was interested in reading (but it was in French).
The original article is here:
And the translated article is here:
Now I know that neither of the translations are perfect but they are good enough and they certainly make the text accessible to me as a non-French speaker (and reader!). It is not just Google who have on-line translator tools Bing Translate from Microsoft is also really good!
So where am I going with this? Well Google translate can translate English into 56 other languages (and this number continues to grow). The accuracy of the translations varies depending on the language but I would say that they are all at least 60% accurate. There will be some people that say that, ‘they are only 60% accurate’ but I would say that is still 60% of 56 languages that I couldn’t read or write before… It really is amazing when you think about it – what a tool!
But it doesn’t just stop there. What if you are in a restaurant in Germany and you want to find out what something is on the menu? Well from reading the above we know that you could type it into Google Translate but that takes a bit of time. If you had an Android powered phone you can take a picture of the menu and then using the Google Goggles App select the text on the photograph that you want to translate and Google will do the rest. It is very impressive and very quick.
Of course, if you read the second post in this series on voice input to text for the mobile you will already be thinking about what comes next.
We have the capacity to speak into a mobile device and for it to turn that into text, we have the capacity to turn the text into a near translation of (currently) 56 different languages, we have had screen reader software for years. How long will it be before I can speak into my mobile in English and you can listen to me in French?
The answer is not long. In fact you can already do it (see video from Microsoft Research Asia below) – its just a bit slow and not as accurate as it could be just yet. But, as I have tried to emphasize throughout this series the technology will get smaller, quicker and cheaper. The important thing about the technology is that as soon as it does become available and robust (6 – 18 months) everyone with a smart phone will have access to it for free.
What’s my point? Well first of all I am not trying to suggest that this will be the end to modern languages teaching in school. I still think there is a place for this and I still think that children should be given the opportunity to learn a different language if they want to. I am sure that some modern language teachers and other educators will agree on this point.
But what I do think we need to be thinking about is how will we explain to children that learning a second language is important? How will we motivate them when they can just pick up their phone and translate their own spoken word into a number of different languages? When does this technology become part of a business education or enterprise course?
Importantly, at what point will we start to use these wonderful tools in school to help get children and young people to not just learn another language but to learn about each other? At what point will we realize that conversation can reduce conflict for future generations and that language is currently a barrier to these important conversations, these important collaborations and probably solving some of the words most difficult problems.
As with the rest of this series – I may well be wrong.
What do you think?