The world is mobile! The rise of mobile phone and portable tablet translation apps

With the increasing number of mobile apps on the market, the world is getting smaller. That is to say, more and more people are turning to their handheld devices such as smartphones, PDAs and portable tablets as a way to communicate, instead of via their PCs and desktop computers.

So where does this fit in with translation – well, quite literally, everywhere!

If, like me, you have been experimenting with your funky new gadgets over the Christmas holidays, you may have come across the large array of translation apps out there. Now that the mobile world is established, there are countless translation apps available on the iPhone, Blackberry and Android market, making the world far more accessible and breaking down all barriers – a useful phenomenon that can help you out in a number of situations including travel, business networking, exporting, social networking and e-learning.

No longer do you need to sift through your phrasebook to order another coffee whilst on your travels – simply insert your phrase into your app, and the translation pops up instantly. There are even a wide range of voice-recognition apps, that allow you to speak your phrase into the phone, and the app ‘interprets’ back, all for a much smaller service fee than a human interpreter would cost, despite the somewhat awkwardness of passing the handset between yourself and your conversation partner.

The most impressive on the market are the image translation apps. This is where the user can take a picture of a text e.g. menu, road sign or advert, and the app’s OCR (optical character recognition) technology can transform the image to text, and then translate it into the language required.

This facility has been around for a few years now – the first voice-recognition interpreting device was invented back in 1999 – but it is only now that mobile phones have become sophisticated and affordable enough that the application is now so widely accessible. No need to fork out for a bespoke portable device, simply download an app for often less than a pound onto your existing smartphone and interpret away!

But don’t forget about the translation pitfalls. Mobile translation apps are a variation of machine translation, using intelligent computational linguistics. The app may not ‘understand’ your query correctly, so best not to rely on these too much! The linguistic quality of machine translation applications have in recent years significantly improved, as more human input is fed into the software. Some providers now claim accuracy as high as 95%, however this is in terms of ‘understanding’ the inputted words rather than the quality of the translated output. These apps could by no means be used as a substitute for an interpreter in business negotiations for example, or to translate important emails or contracts.

What the translation apps do offer is a helping hand in those sticky situations when you do not know the local language; most people will appreciate the attempt to communicate in their language, even if it is via your phone, so let’s get translating and communicate with the world!

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