The Revolution in Instant Translation

Everybody loves to travel and that is a fact. One of the major problems is the language barrier and it is widely known that when going abroad, you must first learn how to speak the language of the country or at least have a dictionary –  paper or digital – close at hand. However, times have changed and the use of these dictionaries is no longer necessary. Numerous groups of companies specialized in the field of technology and artificial intelligence have created new apps available on Smartphones and iPhones allowing an almost instantaneous speech and/or visual translation.


Could these new technologies possibly have a negative impact on the future of the profession of translators and interpreters ? Can we rely on technologies based on artificial intelligence and finally, what benefits do they offer ?

Two Different Jobs…

Translators and interpreters are different from one another, despite the consistent confusion between the two. Translators are given a certain amount of time to translate a source text into a target language. They usually work with computer tools to facilitate translation (CAT tools, translation memories, terminology databases) and can also carry out in-depth research on the subject or field of the source document in order to improve their translation result.

However, interpreters are asked to verbally translate a text almost instantaneously (a speech, for example) into the target language. There are three different types of interpreting :

  • Consecutive interpreting consists in writing down an interlocutor’s speech in order to deliver the same speech verbally to a third party’s language. In general, this type of interpreting requires the use of symbols as the interpreter does not have much time to write down every word and/or sentence.

  • Simultaneous interpreting consists in instantly delivering in the target language a speech that the interpreter is hearing in the source language. Generally, this service is commonly requested during conferences and meetings at the European Union or the United Nations. An interpreter, who can translate instantly only for twenty or thirty minutes, must work alongside another interpreter, who will take over at the end of the specified time. Each booth, therefore, houses two interpreters and is available in one foreign language.

  • Liaison interpreting is the process of instantly and verbally translating a speech into another language in order to help two people who speak two different languages understand each other. The interpreter is, therefore, the communication link between the two parties.

To summarize, a translator translates a written source text into their native language or into a target language, whereas the interpreter verbally adapts a speech in the source language into a target language which can be their native language or not. In both professions, the initial message of the source text must be communicated.

…A Similar Challenge

Despite differences between translators and interpreters, both may see their future threatened by the evolution of technology and artificial intelligence. Indeed, the market for linguistic services is increasingly exposed to technology, especially the recent development of new IT tools for translation assistance, which did not exist a few years back. However, nowadays, man and technology are working hand in hand and some studies believe that despite the constant evolution of technology, human translators cannot be replaced by machines.

Technology : New Apps and Software

Recently, new software and apps have emerged on the market, in particular on the various online application distribution platforms, such as App Store, Google Play. These apps offer a hybridization between translating and interpreting.

Have you ever tried to communicate with someone who does not speak your language ? For example, when a tourist asks you for information or directions ? How would you react ? Some companies specialized in technology and artificial intelligence have made these impossible communications, quite possible.

  • Almost instantaneous voice translation ? You just have to install the app on your smartphone. Once installed, you choose the language you want and speak into the microphone. The app will translate into the language of your choice and you can then let anyone listen to and/or read the translation. You can usually choose between approximately twenty foreign languages, but the rarest languages are not included in the app.

  • Almost instantaneous visual translation ? This process is the same as the previous one with a few exceptions. Using an app, instead of translating audio content, the app can translate visual content such as texts, menus, and even outdoor panels by using your camera. Thus, when you “videotape” a panel, the app can translate its content into the language that you have chosen.

With these new technologies, you no longer need to travel with large and heavy dictionaries. This is yet another improvement that breaks down the language barrier and facilitates communication.

However, despite a further expansion of technology in the language industry, artificial intelligence still cannot detect the nuances, contexts and human language idioms. This is why it is safe, for the time being, to say that technologies are not ready to replace linguists such as translators and interpreters. These programs, although somewhat limited and unreliable in some very specific areas (legal, financial, etc.), can be quite useful for some people, if not all people willing to learn languages.

Avatar Christelle Dilling

Source : https ://





Translated by Gildas Mergny

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