Google developing speech-to-speech translation for mobiles

Source: The Times (UK)

This sounds pretty cool to me. I got the opportunity to play around with a friend’s Nexus One cellphone the other day, and one of the best features was that at any point there was a keyboard on the screen, I could choose to press a little microphone button and speak what I wanted to type. It wasn’t exactly foolproof, but it seemed like an excellent integration of speech-to-text.

However, Google are now claiming that soon they will have finished developing speech-to-speech translation software for mobile devices; which will enable users to speak what they want to translate into the handset and have a live translation, anywhere.

We think speech-to-speech translation should be possible and work reasonably well in a few years’ time.

Clearly, for it to work smoothly, you need a combination of high-accuracy machine translation and high-accuracy voice recognition, and that’s what we’re working on. If you look at the progress in machine translation and corresponding advances in voice recognition, there has been huge progress recently.

– Franz Och, Google’s head of translation services

Since they seem to have a pretty good footing in the speech-to-text translation, but it could still be better. I’m looking forward to when we have universal translation with the whole Babelfish-on-your-phone setting, but I wonder how it will affect language learning in general – will people still want to learn German for a vacation to Germany if they can just use their phones to get directions, order in a restaurant, and deal with pretty much any other situation?

Probably not. But even early implementations of this software will be a great failsafe if you need direct translation, then and there. Google does it again…