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Saturday, April 29, 2006

A universal translator in your pocket

Here's a handy gadget for travellers to countries where people speak foreign languages.

YOU are in a foreign country, looking for an art gallery, so you stop a passer-by in the street to ask for directions. Instead of talking loudly and slowly in your own language in the vain hope of making yourself understood, or attempting to communicate using an improvised form of sign language, you simply speak into your handheld computer, which instantly translates what you are saying. Then it translates the person's response for you.

That is the vision of computer translation researchers ... in the next couple of years we can expect an explosion in translation technologies, including camera cellphones that can capture text on road signs, say, and translate them into another language, and real-time automatic dubbing to enable anyone to watch any movie or TV programme in their native tongue. Ultimately, we may even see ... a device like a hearing aid that whispers a translation in your ear as someone speaks to you in another language.

OK, fine, but I'd rather they come up with something that helps you actually learn another language!

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