The Rise of AI Powered Smart Voice Translating Devices

Translation devices have developed so much over the last few decades. Those on offer today were but pipe dreams for language learners in the past or existed solely in the imaginations of the best sci-fi writers. Our focus for this article is on AI-powered smart voice translating devices, and what they mean for language learners. 


Photo via Pixabay


The universal translator dream

Any sci-fi fan will tell you that the idea of being able to translate any language instantly is nothing new. Most of these imaginings envision instantaneous translation; from the TARDIS of Doctor Who to the babel fish in Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. Some shows aimed to give a sense of realism to the difficulty such devices would face, such as Star Trek, which would always give a delay in translations of languages that had never been recorded. 

What is different about these sorts of technologies from the ones actually on our markets is that all of them interfere with brainwave frequencies. This seems incredibly intrusive, and perhaps could put a person open to suggestion by whoever controls or maintains the AI system behind them—if there is one! Just look at the unintentional gender bias in Google Translate! The in-your-brain type of universal translator, then, is thankfully still a way off. What else do we have to translate with?



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The evolution of the universal translator

There used to be handheld machines that would let you translate, for example, Mandarin to English, by typing the characters in to form the words. Some devices could do the same in two or three languages, like those for French, Spanish, and German. All of these devices required us to manually enter the details, meaning there wasn’t anything all that instant about them.

Then came Google Translate, and similar translation services, which gave quick translations that eventually spilled over into apps. You could hold up your phone and have it speak to your barista in Italy when ordering coffee, or at the ticket office for Disney in Hong Kong to ask about the entrance fee. Though even these aren’t truthfully instant, and of course they come with faults; if a human being can mess up a word in translation or even their own tongue, surely devices are only as fallible as the humans who made them?


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Today’s translators

The AI-powered translation tools we have available today are far superior, though even they cannot translate every language on the go; there are more than 7000 languages in the world, after all!

Take the CM Translator, one of the most popular devices on the market. Favoured for its pocket size and long-life battery, along with its ability to translate two-way conversations in real-time, the CM Translator can only translate 42 languages.

The Langogo is more impressive, utilizing 24 of the best translations from around the world. This device translates 105 languages, and there are others like the TESIYI with 106.

We are sure that, before the year is out, even more devices translating even more languages will be available to us. But not all of them at once!


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Language learners, unite!

So do all these devices mean we can give up language learning? Well of course we’d say no; we’re language people, and we love languages. They aren’t as satisfying as learning an actual language, for one thing. Colloquialisms will always trip AI up.

Translation devices don’t offer the nuances of human speech like using our tone of voice to express our mood, sarcasm, or dirty jokes! And since language constantly evolves, with new slang popping up in social media on a daily basis, no single device can really give us everything.

They are, however, great tools for language learners. What better way to get over that hurdle of speaking than to use a device to gain confidence about pronunciation and sentence structure? The possibilities for enhanced language learning with these AI-powered smart voice translators are worth exploring. We just don’t think they will replace actual language learning any time yet.

If you too prefer a human to converse with, why not sign up for a tailor-made course with one of our native-speaking tutors? They can guide you around any pitfalls of language nuance so you don’t sound robotic when you talk! Want to know more? Drop us a quick inquiry to see how our courses work.