Speech to Play a Bigger Role in Translation Technologies
The language industry is expected to grow substantially this year and next, due to rising demand for professional translation and localization services, according to the Globalization and Localization Association, an industry trade group based in Andover, Mass.
Machine translation technologies were expected to be a big part of the growth, which was predicted to hit 12 percent in 2012 and is expected to continue at a similar pace this year, according to Hans Fenstermacher, CEO of the association.
Though machine translation technologies involving speech have seen limited usage thus far, Fenstermacher says they are a growing area within the industry.
Part of the reason for their slow adoption has been the complex, multilayered processes involved. "First [the system] has to recognize what is being said, convert it to text, translate the text into the other language, and then convert it back to speech for output," he says.
Fenstermacher says the technology has vastly improved in the past few years. "There are multiple technologies at work here, but the speech recognition and output is really quite good today," he states.
Nonetheless, most applications of technology in the language industry today still involve text-to-text translation, especially for Web content. This is particularly true among three language groups dubbed "the Triple A"—Asian, African, and Arabic.
Internet adoption in these emerging markets is surging. In the past decade, Internet usage has grown more than 20 times faster in Africa and 17 times faster in the Middle East than in the United States, according to research from Common Sense Analysis.
These language groups can pose unique challenges for speech technologies because of the many dialects, accents, and regional variations.
In these and other languages, speech is producing adequate results for some very specialized uses with very limited domains and phrase requirements. One of the biggest users of such technology is the military; U.S. forces have fielded several device types in combat zones to aid in interactions with the locals.
Machine translation technology is also being spurred by faster delivery of translations, demand for real-time translations, and increasing interest from corporate investors.
"We will see speech [translation] become much more prevalent in the next few years," Fenstermacher predicts.
He does caution, however, that despite the technological advances, businesses cannot afford to rely on machine translations alone. Increasingly they will need professional translation and localization services to compete and maintain their brands in global markets, he says.
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