Smart headphones, the new interpreter – no more language barriers?
A sea of languages: chaos or diversity?
According to the estimates, the number of languages spoken around the world today are between 6000-7000. While this is a fact, whether we think of it as positive or negative news is only up to us. On the one hand, the diversity of cultures and languages is a miracle that we are rarely consciously aware of: for example by learning a new language or discovering a new culture, new worlds can open up to us. On the other hand, however, this variety makes communication as well as mutual understanding remarkably difficult.
It was therefore unavoidable for translation and interpreting to develop. While the profession was just starting to take a professional form in the 20th century, its future already became questionable due to the spread of digitalisation and artificial intelligence.
Whether interpreters and translators can ever be replaced by machines is still up to debate. However, it is a fact that certain smart devices can largely contribute to our everyday lives.
Are you travelling? These are the Apps that you should download if you do not speak the language!
Has it ever happened to you that you felt like getting to know somebody from a different culture, but you did not share a common language? I was in this situation in Poland for example, where I was hosted by a lovely family for a few days. We had no problem communicating with the younger members of the family, however, with the grandfather we had to rely on our Activity skills and we were forced to type into Google translate the simplified version of what we wanted to say, so that it would reach the other person, even if the result often contained a few mistakes and mistranslations.
In such situations, certain well-known and less well-known translation software can come in handy. You have probably already used the services of Google translate, but it is less commonly known that you can also download similar applications on your phone: the TripLongo and Jibbigo applications are recommended especially for travellers. Although the number of languages is limited, thanks to the wide choice provided by the apps, the language barrier can be demolished in a lot of cases. For example, the Papago application can be used in the Korean, Chinese and Japanese languages, so if you are heading towards Asia, this is the app that it worth downloading on your phone.
Smart headphones in the role of interpreters
Going beyond mobile applications, the Waverly Labs start-up has developed a new smart device: the headphone named Pilot, which, beyond the functions of listening to music and providing a loudspeaker for your phone, is able to establish a communication channel between two people who do not speak the same language. The device can already be ordered for 249 dollars. Let’s see what this tiny device is capable of.
At the moment, the headphone that is outstanding in filtering out external noises can be used in five languages: in English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, but the company is already working on expanding the service to include for example Arabic as well as a variety of Slavic languages.
Although the interpreting only takes a few seconds (as the actual work is done by a phone app that needs to have been downloaded by both parties beforehand) and like this, it does not interfere with the natural flow of the conversation, the developers would like to increase the speed to make communication happen real time. Besides, with the current device, both people participating in the conversation need a headphone in order for the interpreting to work well. However, the developers would like to further improve this and bring new models to the market that translate everything around the user. Of course the device can sometimes make mistakes and the computerised translation does not work perfectly in every case. It can be a disturbing factor if somebody is using a less-known dialect or speaks too fast for example. However, the more people using the device will mean that malfunctions can be worked on faster.
As it already became obvious, the machines cannot replace human knowledge yet: their use is rather limited, many factors can influence the quality of the translation and in the case of the Hungarian language, it is also problematic that it largely differs from the other European languages. Therefore, it is not worth suspending the learning of a language with the assumption that apps and smart phones will do the job. However, in certain cases these devices already make our lives easy and it seems that with time, they will be able to do a much better job.
Written by: Noémi Paulik
Translated: Judit Molnár