Google phones to translate speech on the fly

8 Feb 2010
World

Search giant's phones will offer voice-to-voice translation... but not for a few years

Google has announced plans to release voice-to-voice translation software for use on mobile phones.

The company is aiming to release a basic service within the next couple of years, according to reports, but acknowledges the difficulty of mapping the thousands of languages and dialects that exist around the world.

“Everyone has a different voice, accent and pitch,” said Franz Och, head of translation services at Google, in an interview with The Times.

The phone should get a feel for your voice from past voice-search queries

“But recognition should be effective with mobile phones because by nature they are personal to you. The phone should get a feel for your voice from past voice-search queries, for example,” he added, acknowledging that the system wouldn't function effectively without accurate voice-recognition software.

The new translation service will analyse “packages” of speech, listening to a full phrase or sentence until it understood the full meaning of what was being said.

Google already has voice-control options on its mobile search engine and an online text translator. However, the text system only recognises 52 languages (adding Haitian Creole last week), which does not come close to even the 230 languages spoken in Europe, many of which include a variety of dialects.

Och admits that full speech-to-speech translation will not be feasible until “a few years’ time”, but adds that the field is progressing quickly and that the wealth of data Google already has on different languages and speech patterns will go a long way to helping the company develop the software first.

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