A universal translator is like the holy grail for scientists and language learners alike. Imagine, the ability to be multilingual without having to lift a finger (other than to type in your pin number). Scientists claim to have finally grasped the holy grail by inventing U-Star a ‘universal speech translator’. The device is made up of a screen, a video camera, a microphone and translating software. It is currently able to translate ’10 languages, either one-on-one or a conversation involving several different languages. They include Thai, English, Japanese, Mandarin, Malay, Korean, Bahasa Indonesia, Hindi and Vietnamese.’

The new speech-to-speech translation project is a collaboration of eight agencies in Asian countries, including Nectec in Thailand.

Before you throw away your language textbooks keep in mind the intended audience for this product. The device is being marketed to ‘managers, government officials and business people worried about how to communicate with the vastly increased foreign community’. There is currently no price tag attached to the product and as U-Star is a sophisticated electrical product I imagine the price tag will be hefty. There is also the issue of accuracy.

Overall translation accuracy varies between 60 to 90 per cent, depending on the speaking environment and style.

I imagine the people willing to part with money for U-Star hold pretty important positions. 60% accuracy is a little worrying for governments holding peace talks and businessmen closing multimillion pound deals. The quick fix holy grail has a long way to go, so dust off your course notes and get learning.

via: Bangkok Post