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Will demo girls show something with the bugs worked out?

September 24, 2011

I love how advances in computer technology are changing the ways we humans can communicate. It’s terrific that this very blogpost you are reading here is written with two-finger finger taps on my iPad. And I just made up the phrase “finger taps” and it’s modifier, “two-finger.” You get that remarkably. So notice the old smashes up against the brand new. Instant discovery. Lightning speed change.

Now, what’s the hope for language, for translation? Will we always assume that phrases like the ones I’ve invented here just now, or “demo girls” and “work out” and “the bugs,” are merely shadows on the walls of the cave?

Listen to this article for novel phrases. Then tell me what you want to say to your Czech or Spanish or Swahili or Japanese speaking friends when you text them; what if you want to say, “the old smashes up against the new with two-finger finger taps?” See what I’m saying? Okay, here’s the article. Imagine “knock on wood” in Swahili. But what other metaphors and idioms do you see in the article? Will translation by technology “wipe these out”?

…Ortsbo… allows you to chat in over 50 languages with anyone across the world with realtime translation….

Companies like Vocre announced at Tech Crunch Disrupt offer voice to text translations in real time, although when we tried to get a demo of Vocre it did not perform well and the translation had to be edited for accuracy. I spoke with Andrew Lauder Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Vocre briefly about this trouble and he attributed it to microphone quality being less optimal on the iPod in comparison to the iPhone; which is what the demo girls were using to show me the translation.

Regardless, Vocre is a very useful tool and once the team works out the bugs it should grow very fast amongst iPhone travelers. What is special is that Vocre uses the corrected translations to improve the engine and accuracy for future translations. Something Ortsbo has yet to do, but is planning to. Luccatch briefly talked about crowd sourcing phrases and terms used that are not easily translatable while keeping the same meaning, like “knock on wood.” Although you and I as english speaking folks may understand the phrase, someone in swahili may not grasp the concept if directly translated. This is where Ortsbo’s Wiki will come to the rescue. Already with 85-95% accuracy it can only get better. Ortsbo web translation is being used by 30 million unique users with 250 billion translations each month. When asked how the iPhone app adoption was performing — with 114 seemingly positive reviews on iTunes — Lucatch diverted from an answer and turned to their future release of a Mango version once Windows Mango launches.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 25, 2011 1:45 am

    Will translation by technology “wipe these out”?

    Accurate translation of idoms, even “by hand,” occurs on the “twelfth of never,” so “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

  2. September 25, 2011 5:30 pm

    Notice, by the way, that for typed text, this is now fully integrated into LiveWriter — see here.

    And, of course, dictation to blog posting is already common in some circles, sometimes with disastrous results.

  3. September 26, 2011 2:41 pm

    Thanks for the links Theophrastus! And, just as much, thank you for the idioms!

    I’m always amused at how “idioms”-blind the users of idioms can be, as the writer of the bit I quoted in my post so clearly is. When I write to have something translated by google translate, I try to avoid idioms “like the plague.”

    On your “if wishes were horses” proverb, I wonder what the use is to reduce it to something like, “This means that wishing for something or wanting it is not the same as getting or having it.” (Of course, that’s from somebody’s ESL site, written in English still but presumably for English learners who have no literary background.) What I like much better is the rich context of the website: It seems that kind of richness is too much for some; so my point again: if I were chatting and txting via Ortsbo, I doubt I’d say

    f wishS wr GGs, beggars w%d ride

    I’d more likely type

    we have this saying….

  4. September 26, 2011 5:19 pm

    The problem is well-known in machine translation, and Fabrizio Pilato is perhaps unaware of its many maxims (e.g., “time flies like an arrow but fruit flies like a banana.”)

    I do not know for certain if Pilato is a native speaker of English, but his text has a distinctive ESL feel to it. I think it is safe to say that Pilato is no Joseph Conrad (an ESL writer who learned how to make his foreignness do wonders in his prose.)

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