Microsoft Demonstrates Vocal Translator

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Experimental programs that use speech recognition to perform real-time language translations have been kicking around for years now, but Microsoft took the idea to a new level at its TechFest 2012 event last week.

Like other translators, the software developed by Microsoft Research allows you to talk to it in your native tongue and send it out the speaker of a device as another language -- Spanish, French, Chinese, or such.

What comes out of that speaker, though, isn't the ersatz speech of a computer robot, but an ersatz approximation of what you sound like.

What's more, the software will create a 3D image of your head that makes it look as if you're speaking the translation.

Called Monolingual TTS, the system currently has 26 languages in its repertoire.

Acquainting the system with a voice does take more time than it does in your typical speech recognition program -- about an hour of training Monolingual TTS in your vocal tones.

If the application can be stuffed into a smartphone, it would be a boon to international travelers. Language training is also a good fit for the technology.

Microsoft's vision in the translation space is broader than what has been produced by its rivals. It wants to use lifelike virtual avatars that not only mimic your looks but also your voice and the movements of your lips when you speak. The results produced from that vision can be impressive, but they can be creepy, too.

Google, which has a widely-used online text-based translator, has also been delving into speech-based translation.

Google's approach is to enable you to speak into a device in your native tongue and have the device turn your speech into the language you want and send it out its speaker in a synthetic voice.

The person you're speaking to can then answer you in their native language, which your device will translate into your language.

Google offers a free app -- Translate -- for its Android operating system that has a conversation mode, although the results you may get with it will be less than perfect.

While it would seem that Apple's Siri voice app would be a natural for speech translation functions, it doesn’t natively support the task. However, if you jailbreak an iPhone 4S, which is not recommended by Apple, you can run an app called Lingual which allows you to say something in your native language and Siri will display it on the iPhone's screen in one of 30 languages.

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