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Mobile translation app gives voice to those ‘afraid to speak a language’

Thursday, January 8th 2015 by Hannah Langston

An app which translates mobile and landline calls in real-time has been displayed at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Lexifone’s machine-based interpreter can translate calls into 16 different languages on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Speaking to Cable.co.uk at the show, Patrick Tata of Lexifone said the ability to pick up any phone and speak your native language “opens up a lot of doors”.

“I think people who in the past were afraid to speak a language are perhaps more open.

“So immigrants, ex-pats, travelling students – they have the technology. It’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and it’s right in their pocket,” he said.

The service allows for both users to speak at the same time, with a four second delay after a person has finished speaking before the speech is translated. The system can recognise a range of dialects and can be taught custom phrases.

“I think it breaks down a number of barriers out there to international trade and commerce. The email and translation of email is out there, voice to text translation is out, but it’s a little difficult,” Mr Tata added.

“This creates a more wide scale opportunity because everyone has a phone – especially in business. We’re knocking down the walls to make sure that happens.”

More companies are now investing in voice translation software, with Microsoft launching its first preview of Skype Translator – which allows real-time conversations between spoken English and Spanish – at the end of last year.

Following the initial launch of the product in 2013, Lexifone is providing a software developer kit (SDK) to other developers who want to use its technology.

“So if it’s a connected car, for example: if you want it to be multilingual, you can make it multilingual now,” Mr Tata said.

“It’ll be cool to see how, over the next few years, how this evolves. With data centre technology, the internet, the ability to communicate across borders is going to be necessary.”

Speech recognition systems have previously been criticised for failing to accurately pick out regional accents. Although Blaise Thomson, CEO of a spin-off software company from the University of Cambridge, told Cable.co.uk there have been “big improvements in speech recognition in the last 5-10 years”

Additional reporting by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

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