Sundays 8pm to 11pm on Radio 2

New Episodes at CBC Music

New Episodes at CBC Music

Need more Strombo Show? Head over to our page on CBC Music for new episodes, playlists and video extras.

CBC Music Past Shows



New Tech Translates From English To Chinese, In The User’s Voice, Almost Instantly… And There’s A
November 9, 2012
submit to reddit


If you've ever wanted to speak another language, but don't like all the studying, practice and hard work that goes with learning one, this invention could be for you.

Microsoft has just demoed a new translation software, co-created with scientists from the University of Toronto.

The software listens to a user's voice, then almost instantly translates what that speaker is saying into another language.

Not only that, it uses the speaker's own intonations and speech patterns in the new language, so it sounds like the user is actually speaking.

The head of Microsoft research Rick Rashid gave a presentation about the technology, finishing up with a demo in which his words were translated into Chinese.

Check out the video (the demonstration starts at around 7:30):

The new translation tool is possible thanks to advances in computer technology, as well as a new approach to writing the software. Speedier hardware lets the system crunch the data faster, but it was a 2010 discovery that really led to a breakthrough.

Before that, translation software used pattern recognition to figure out what people were saying.

But Microsoft researchers and those U of T scientists improved the system by using deep neural networks that work like the human brain to identify sounds.

As shown by Rashid, the software first converts English speech into text, then rearranges the word order so it makes sense in Chinese. Then, it translates it and uses the speaker's speech patterns to turn it into audio.

"Of course, there are still likely to be errors in both the English text and the translation into Chinese, and the results can sometimes be humorous," Mr. Rashid said in a blog post. "Still, the technology has developed to be quite useful."

No kidding: imagine an international business meeting in multiple languages without the need for a translator. Or the possibilities of meeting and communicating with people from other cultures, even if you don't speak the same language.

As he says in his speech, Rashid hopes "in a few years, we'll be able to break down the communication barriers between people." He goes on, "personally, I think this is going to lead to a better world."

Microsoft isn't the only one working on instant translation technology. A little while back, Japanese telecom company NTT Docomo introduced a similar technology for their cell phone users. Both Google and AT&T are working on their own versions, as well.


Universal Translator? Japanese Mobile Company Introduces A Real-Time Translation Function

Engage: Star Trek's Warp Drive May Be More Possible Than We Thought, According To Scientists


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.