Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
Extra Spicy with Google Translate
November 19, 2010 - By: - In: Machine Translation - Comments Off on Extra Spicy with Google Translate

A few months back, Google translate added a reader so that not only could the tool translate into 50 languages, it could now speak them for you as well. Very cool. And completely useless, since the tool can only speak, not understand. Text entry is required. So I was super impressed by how Candace, Dana and Alana made good use of this tool in their work on “Extra Spicy Slam,” a demo video hosted on Google Demo Slam, where users are encouraged to post demos of favorite Google features. So Google-istic, isn’t it?

These three young women made the video “to show you how easy it is to speak another language by ordering Indian food in Hindi.” They cued up each phrase they planned to translate on a Google Translate page and then tabbed their way through a phone conversation. And it worked, thanks to the patience and good humor of the order-taker at the Indian restaurant. (Standard operating procedure. . . . Machine translation has always depended on the kindness of strangers.)

They ran into a problem when they made false assumptions about the questions the order-taker was asking in turn. When he asked, “Will that be all?” in Hindi, they assumed he was asking for their address, so they kept keying that into the tool. But finally, mission (or slam) accomplished, with all fish curries delivered extra-spicy, as ordered.

A lot of fun to watch. These girls are great. Please vote for them.

But as far as demonstrating any utility, well, these girls could sell iceboxes to the Inuit, that’s for sure, but I’m not sure they made a good case for Google Translate audio. Since it speaks, but doesn’t hear, it’s more of a toy than actually useful. Real-time communication has got to be two-way, even for an exchange as tightly scripted as ordering Indian take-out.

Had the curry-man been in on the joke, he could have hooked up Google Translate on his own PC and pushed out his Hindi into audible English. That would work. But why bother? Wouldn’t it just be easier to text?

Consider this. We speak at about 150 words per minute. We text at about, say, 25 words per minute, and read at about 300 words per minute, so why listen when you can read it twice as fast? In texting to get it translated, transmission speed takes six times longer than a regular conversation, even if readers are quicker on the uptake of a text message, so even though the actual translations are real-time within a second or two, the transaction is anything but. Same kind of thing with telephone interpretation, which takes two and a half times longer, since it requires more than twice the time for an interpreter to repeat a phrase in a different language.

Guess we’ve gotta do some of our own demos. Stay tuned. Hopefully early next year.

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