Google has released a new App that facilitates real time translation between English and other major European languages. In essence, with the app loaded on your iPhone or your iPad, you can speak and the App will render your statement in a selected foreign language. Or, it will translate what someone else, speaking that language, says to you. You simply hold your iWhatever between yourself and the person you are speaking with. Of course, in reality, the App isn't nearly as good as this quick description makes it sound. It has trouble with people who don't speak clearly and and a moderate pace. It has a lot of trouble with people who use metaphors, or colloquial phrases. In its current release, I would say that it was more a toy for tourists — something to help you find a bathroom or ask how much something costs in a pinch. It's in about the same category as using the voice feature on your iPad to do research into restaurants in your area.
The real take-away, however, is that verbal interfaces are getting much better, faster, and that they are going to be delivered via digital assistants of various kinds. For those of us working to help companies improve their business processes, its time to start reexamining the situations in which people need to translate and think about how a digital aid might be used to facilitate a better customer experience.
You should certainly play with the Google Translate App and see what it does. You might even try it in the context of some business process. Then start thinking were translation is required in your business, and how easy it would be to supplement or support human translators with a digital assistant.
All businesses are becoming more international. If you work with a website, then the odds are you have interacted with a least a few people who have called from abroad to inquire. They probably attempted to talk English, but you may have had trouble understanding them. I know I have been in that situation. It would certainly have benefited both the called and myself, if I could have asked the person to have repeated him or herself in his own language and gotten a good English translation of that phrase.
It will probably be a few years yet — say another one or two “Moore generations” — before real-time, automatic, verbal translation becomes commonplace, but it will surely be commonplace within that time frame, and now is the time for business process professionals who want to assure that their organizations are ahead of their competitors — by making it easy for their customers to do business with them — to begin to experiment, plan, and test translation systems.
Google Translate has made it rather easy for individuals to conduct experiments and to learn what to look for in future translation systems.