App helps travelers speak in foreign languages

Mon Sep 26, 2011 1:17pm EDT
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By Natasha Baker

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Communicating with local people in a foreign country can pose difficulties, whether it is asking for direction or making a special request at a restaurant.

But Vocre, a new iPhone app released by translation company myLanguage, aims to ease those problems by enabling users to translate their spoken voice into foreign languages.

It leverages crowd-sourcing to continually improve the accuracy of its translations to allow people to express themselves in the same way as native speakers.

"It's like asking your friend down the street, 'How would I say this in Spanish?" said Andrew Lauder, founder and CEO of myLanguage.

"It might not be something that's expected by a dictionary -- but it is the right way to say it when you go to that specific part of the world. It has the colloquialisms or slang of the area."

The app uses the iPhones accelerometer as a source of input so that users don't need to tap the screen. They simply hold the phone in one direction to record their voice, and then flip it in the other direction to make it talk in the translated language.

Lauder said that the company's expertise lies in the translation technology, rather than the voice transcription or human speech technology, which are driven by Nuance (speech-to-text) and iSpeech (text-to-speech) respectively.

The translation engine trains itself based on user-contributed corrections, queries made by other users in their native languages, as well as their own linguists, to determine the most common way a native speaker would say a particular phrase.   Continued...

<p>Teacher Kennis Wong (L) points to Chinese characters on the board at Broadway Elementary School in Venice, Los Angeles, California, April 11, 2011. The school launched one of only two English-Mandarin Chinese dual-language immersion programs in the Los Angeles Unified School District in September 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson</p>