Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Could you communicate in another language without learning it?

I bet some one's already working on this but in the interest of generating ideas that lead to usable stuff here's my two cents.

Would it be so amazing if you could chat to other people that speak a different language without having to learn their language. Kind of like a babelfish like that in the hitch hikers guide to the galaxy.

Well, I don't think that's as far off as it might sound. I think all the technology is about there and it just needs to be tied together.

What do you need.
  1. Something to turn speech in to text: that is coming along. Plenty of devices seem to have voice recognition. It just seems to need a little time to learn your voice.
  2. Something to translate the text: Google's translate does a good enough job. I've been using it to learn Spanish by just picking a site and translating the text to check if I was right.
  3. Something to read the text back out to the person you're talking to. This has been around for a while. I don't know if the technology is free to use but screen readers are doing this right now.
What would you use it for?
Well just social situations would be useful such as:
  • Networking on forums
  • Calling overseas companies you could speak to them via this translator. Or when you call them you could say your english and they put you through this translator so that you can chat
  • Calling helpdesks or support: if there was a language problem this may solve it. Maybe they could translate their words to a language you do understand.
I think there are a lot of applications for it but the tool would probably need to be in place or almost there first. I just wonder if anyone has an interest in putting it all together.

edit 20091208
Well. Only a year or so later I hear that google wave is now making this possible. Apparently extensions within wave provide real time translation enabling people to communicate with each other in their own language while the software translates on the fly.

Good to know it didn't take so long to come along. I just can't wait to try it out for myself.
Blogged with the Flock Browser


Anonymous said...

The only practical way such communication is possible ids by making use of Esperanto, designed specifically for communication beteween people of different mother tongues. I've used it in Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and so on. Take a look at

Colin said...

good point. I'd forgotten about esperanto. It still requires people to learn it though. that's fantastic if it became common across the world. But right now I'm not certain that's the solution. Too many people only understand their own language. That's the impression I get.

Would be good then if esperanto becomes more common place.