24 Jun 2011

Do the French go Camping? And What Exactly is an Ending Ground?

Despite the lack of Stuart Baggs, ‘the Brand’, related shenanigans or inspirational quotes, this years ‘The Apprentice’ has still had its share of golden moments. This week, we saw the ever-inquisitive Susan Ma ask, without a hint of irony: “Do the French go camping? Are the French very fond of their children? Do a lot of people drive in France?”

But even with this startling absence of intellect, it was Leon Doyle who heard the immortal words, ‘you’re fired’. Having struggled to cope with the French language barrier, Doyle said in hindsight that ‘if I have a £250,000 investment, I would be able to hire a translator’.
I don’t mean to be pedantic Leon, but you’d probably want an interpreter!
So a little bit of local knowledge may have saved both Susan and Leon from embarrassment. But when it isn’t possible to obtain expert knowledge, we can sometimes use technology to help with our translations.
I recently saw a great example that uses Smartphone technology to help translate medical questions and history into 5 different languages. The software, called MediBabble, can translate approximately 2,500 exam-style questions into Russian, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Haitian Creole. Since its launch on the iTunes store in April, the application has received over 6,000 downloads as well as critical praise. But technology has also been known to spectacularly fail, especially when it comes to recognizing speech and language.
One quite amusing example is the recently developed voice-to-text message application. I’m not sure if I would recommend it, as the software’s attempts to translate famous quotes have been hugely unsuccessful.
For example, Winston Churchill’s famous speech, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets”, was transformed into the somewhat less rousing “This is I John. Dmitri. We shall fight on the ending ground. We shall fight in the fields an in the streets”.
 
Similarly, Han Solo’s “Hey Luke, may the force be with you”, was translated into the less poignant, “Hey Lou, we’re working with you”, while Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore’s “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” quip, had somehow become “Hey Les, Pete come in the morning”.
Maybe voice recognition and translation technology will improve in the future, but until then, we will have the misfortune of writing our text messages the archaic way.


 
 

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