No more English classes?

A hand-held universal translator could make conversations with speakers of other languages much easier. Don't throw away your English language materials just yet, however.

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No more English classes?

Are teachers of foreign languages about to lose their jobs?

The threat comes from a hand-held device that will allow the user to speak his or her own language and be understood by speakers of more than 20 other languages.

Scientists from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) say they will make such a universal speech translator available well ahead of the planned Asean Economic Community in 2016.

U-Star, the name of the technology, currently translates 10 languages, either one-on-one or a conversation involving several different languages. They include Thai, English, Japanese, Mandarin, Korean, Bahasa Indonesia or Malay, Hindi and Vietnamese.

The heart of the U-Star system at the moment is usually a hand-held video camera, outfitted with a microphone and translation software.

When the system ships, anyone will be able to speak his or her native language into a hand-held device and communicate directly with any other native language user, including several at one time.

In this test of the system, Paul only speaks Thai (noted by "th"), but is communicating with speakers of (top to bottom) Hindi, Vietnamese and Japanese.

The new speech-to-speech translation project is a collaboration of eight agencies in Asian countries, including Nectec in Thailand.

Don't throw away your English language materials just yet, however. The system, while impressive, is likely to be limited for some time to come.

The system being finalised by Nectec recognises 14,000 Thai words and 21,000 English words. That's a lot but not enough to allow flawless conversation.

A bigger problem will be translation accuracy. According to the Nectec website, "Overall, translation accuracy varies between 60 to 90 per cent, depending on the speaking environment and style."

With the rate that technology is changing, however, foreign language teachers may have genuine competitor five or ten years down the line. Think, for example, how much mobile phones have changed within the past decade.

Adapted from a story on bangkokpost.com

threat – a danger อันตราย
device – a machine or piece of equipment that does a particular job อุปกรณ์ เครื่องมือ เครื่องจักร
available – that you can get, find or buy มีอยู่, หาได้
make available – to make it possible for someone to get or buy something
universal – involving everything/everyone ทั่วไป
translate – to express the meaning of speech or writing in a different language แปล
currently – at this time; now ในปัจจุบัน
at the moment – at this time; now ขณะนี้, ตอนนี้, เวลานี้
outfit – to provide somebody/something with equipment or clothes for a special purpose ติดตั้งเครื่องมือ,จัดสัมภาระ
ship – to make something available to be bought; to be available to be bought
native – connected with the place where you were born and lived for the first years of your life  แต่กำเนิด,โดยกำเนิด, พื้นเมือง
native language – a person’s first language, learned as a child
collaboration – working together with someone else การร่วมมือ
impressive – something that people admire because it is very good, very large or shows great skill ซึ่งน่าประทับใจ
limited – not much or enough; not very great in amount or extent จำกัด
finalise – to complete the last part of a plan, trip, project, etc ทำให้เสร็จสมบูรณ์
recognise – to know what something is จำได้ รู้จัก
flawless – without faults or weaknesses and therefore perfect ไม่มีข้อบกพร่อง, ไม่มีจุดบกพร่อง
accuracy – the state of being exact or correct; the ability to do something skilfully without making mistakes ความแม่นยำ
environment – a place, including all the physical conditions that affect it สภาพแวดล้อม, สิ่งแวดล้อม
rate – the level or speed at which something happens or changes, or the amount or number of times it happens or changes in a particular period อัตรา
genuine – real; honest แท้
competitor – a person, team, thing or company that is competing against others ผู้แข่งขัน, คู่แข่ง
decade – a period of ten years ทศวรรษ, ระยะเวลา 10 ปี

Related search: universal language translator, U-star, A-star, Nectec

About the author

columnist
Writer: Terry Fredrickson
Position: Education Marketing and Support Manager