Wanted: Transltion Machine

Dec 1st, 2004, 07:11 AM
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Wanted: Transltion Machine

Wouldn't it be great if one could rent a translation machine, into which one could talk, and out of a loudspeaker would come simulaneous foreign language sentences? And the foreigner to whom one was speaking could speak into the loudspeaker and his/her words would be simultaneously translated into one's earphones.
I don't mean one of those cheezy one-word- at-a-time things, I mean a whole sentence.

Surely the technology exists; maybe not for all 100,000 words in the English language, but just for all the sentences you'd find in a "Hindu phrases for the discriminating tourist" books you'd find in a bookstore or airport. One could insert a chip for each language needed.
Think of the boon this would be for developing countries' tourism, where people shy away from going to, say, Turkey, because they don't understand Turkish.
One could enjoy the local culture so much more if one could understand 80% of what was being said.
It would be a great pairing with a car rental business, for example. Rent a car, rent the machine, drive thru the Ukraine, chat with strangers. Maybe it would have to be carried in a backpack due to size/weight considerations, but so what? Then too, with everything being miniaturized nowadays, maybe it could just hook on your belt.

IF I were 25 and not 65, and IF I had the technological knowledge (which I don't consider this a very high tech idea), I'd develop it myself. But I'd rather use my remaining years to just travel.

Anyone out there know of such a machine? What do you think of the idea?
tomboy is offline  
Dec 1st, 2004, 07:14 AM
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Machine translation remains the Holy Grail of information technology. The problem is not one of translating words, it's about how grammars are structured and the different meanings provided by the context of an utterance. Idiomatic expressions are a big problem too, as is slang. If it were a lexicon problem, it would have been solved 30 years ago. To see the result of word-for-word translation, choose a foreign language page and run it through babelfish.altavista.com - then see if you can figure out what it means.
Robespierre is offline  
Dec 1st, 2004, 08:14 AM
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Highly skilled professional translators and interpreters have been working on this for years.......with only marginal success. The only such tool that has been at all successful is machine translation software that is specifically designed for one or a group of organizations where the terminology and sentence structure tend not to vary much - the Pan American Health Organization, for example, has developed its own translation software. But even then, it requires a "post-editor" to do a careful cross-check between languages to fix errors.
Language is simply too rich and full of idion, nuance, jargon, and slang for such a tool ever to be reliable.
Besides, imagine the logistics of such a "conversation." I don't think it would be great at all - probably a lot of head banging going on, and none of the fun of trying to communicate.
StCirq is offline  
Dec 1st, 2004, 11:09 AM
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it would be great when the technology has reached the level where you are not embarrased that everyone in the resturant/bus etc hears the output of the machine.

translate this from english to spanish and back to english in altavistas bablefish:
ENGo unto others as you would have them do unto you
SPN:Haga a otros pues usted hizo que hicieran a usted
ENGo to other because you caused that they did you

for now i ll stick with a phrase book.and lets be honest, probably the french will still refuse to speak to you till you LEARN to speak their language fluently.
got1tiel is offline  
Dec 1st, 2004, 11:14 AM
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got1tiel, that has not been my experience with the French, either in Paris or with French-Canadians in Montreal. They've tolerated my poor attempts and switched to English if they knew it, or we somehow made do. I know that what you say is the classic reputation, and I've been told this was worse in the past, but it doesn't seem to be so now.
WillTravel is offline  
Dec 1st, 2004, 11:15 AM
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there you have it i wrote ENG colon capital D and lower o and the machine puts a face of a guy smiling.

got1tiel is offline  
Dec 1st, 2004, 02:01 PM
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That's odd. ENG:Do
Robespierre is offline  
Dec 1st, 2004, 02:04 PM
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But, got1tiel, I knew what you meant pre-correction just from the context.
I'd be happy with a 70%-correct machine that only could translate the 500 standard-phrase-book sentences. Outside that boundary, the machine could speak, "Kindly rephrase your sentence more simply". If I ask a stranger, "Which way is Kutna Hora?", I just want to know straight ahead, right, left, south, left one mile then turn right. I don't need to, or want to, know that I should turn right at the green barn that's next to a Ivan's house. I realize a perfect machine will exist in 20 years, but I think a market for an imperfect machine exists now.
tomboy is offline  
Dec 1st, 2004, 02:08 PM
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Well, the English-to-foreign speech-recognition/translation component is possible today. There are a couple of commercial packages that recognize fairly large vocabularies 95% or more of the time, but they can only achieve that accuracy after the program has been "trained" by having the user read a known text into it for up to an hour. It would be a simple matter to look up hundreds (or even thousands) of phrases and speak the translated text. But that doesn't solve the traveler's problem, which is understanding what someone speaking a foreign language is saying.

Building a machine that could understand a general speaker of another language (the guy in the street) speaking more than a few words would be extremely difficult. Speech recognition technology isn't much further along towards solving the general speaker problem than it was 20 years ago. And it doesn't seem to be a matter of more memory or processor power either, so I am not sanguine about the future prospects.

But you can buy a pocket electronic translator (with a keyboard) that will get you most of what you need for $20 or so.

(I have programmed speech recognition applications for a living.)
Robespierre is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2004, 01:17 AM
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Many (and I mean many) years ago, the limitations of translation using computer logic were explained to me in terms of a computer that translated 'out of sight, out of mind' as 'invisible idiot'.
PatrickLondon is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2004, 01:54 AM
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