Monday, May 23, 2011

NTT Docomo's Translation Telephone

Welcome back to JJNN

Today's article is taken from RBB Today.

It is said (by good ol' Mr. Wiki) that there are anywhere between 3000 to 6000 languages currently at use all over the world. Differences in language along with cultural differences can lead to major political misunderstandings which can also lead to bad blood with countries that speak different languages. That is one of many driving forces that have pushed people to produce a device that can be used as a universal translator.

Of course there have been many different translating devices on the market over the years, but NTT Docomo (a Japanese telephone company) is in the process of producing a phone that will work as a perfect translator for those using it. The basic idea can be seen below.

Basic idea for the translation phone
The scenario Docomo is using in the picture above is a Japanese mother calling her daughter's American host family. As soon as the mother dials out to another translation phone (apparently her daughter brought one with her to America) the two phones are connected to Docomo's server though a conference call bridge. When the user speaks into the cell phone, the server samples the audio, figures out what language it is, puts it though a speech to text protocol, translates that text to the other language, and finally outputs audio in the other language with a text to speech protocol.

This phone sounds like it could help in international business or political relationships. Of course, as with any futuristic technology that is running with today's protocols and hardware, there are going to be some bugs and drawbacks that have to be worked on by Docomo. One thing that seems like the weak link of this system is voice to text system that is used before the translation. If the user does not speak clearly all the time that will mess up how the speech changes to text, which will end up messing up the translation as well. This is especially not good for Japanese where the end of verbs is very important and one small change causes by a slurred vowel can change a sentence from affirmative to negative.

The phone will apparently do a lot of other things like share schedules that have been translated and the like, but that is still in the planning stage. Below is a picture of what text output of a conversation had with the phone. As an English teacher I give my thumbs up to the translation.

Translation cell phone example conversation
It is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 携帯電話(けいたいでんわ). It is pronounced keitai denwa and it means cell phone. When I first got to Japan my cell phone was from Docomo, but now I am with softbank because of my iPhone.

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