What is Speech to Speech Translation?

No longer in the realm of science fiction, the concept of a real-time universal translator is currently in the works as pioneering companies such as Google and Facebook are acquiring and developing technologies that support speech recognition, language translation, and speech synthesis. In 2006, an advancement that led to the development and use of layered models of inputs, termed deep neural networks (DNN), brought speech recognition to its highest level of accuracy yet, clearing the way for speech-to-speech translation. As a result, today’s consumers are habitually interacting with voice-activated virtual assistants on their mobile phones and even in their vehicles with greater ease and comfort. Researchers are now applying DNN to automatic translation engines in efforts to increase the semantic accuracy of interpreting the world’s languages, and Microsoft engineers have already demo-ed software that can synthesize an individual’s own voice in another language, from English to Mandarin. Progress in machine learning technologies is bringing the universal translator closer to the consumer’s hand, and is poised to transform communication and collaboration at the global level.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Perhaps, exams will be more in the verbal format, not the written or fill-in-the-blank. - michael.lambert michael.lambert Apr 2, 2016
  • The impact on global communications is huge, as stated above. Students can converse, in their own language, with others and the information is translated on the fly. - kathyschrock kathyschrock Apr 8, 2016
  • I teach in a school with a high ELL population. I would love to be able to better communicate with my "newcomer" students and their families with limited English skills. - cbsteighner cbsteighner Apr 9, 2016 This. Parent engagement with ELL learners can be potentially improved without the need for translators.- mporter mporter Apr 11, 2016 Yes, could be big for international schools. - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Apr 26, 2016
  • - kevin-johnson kevin-johnson Apr 16, 2016I have taught English as a Foreign Language in Japan for more than 13 years. The possibilities of such technology in these settings is immense. My wife is Japanese, her English is good, but my Japanese is weak. I wish I had this device now! It would help bridge cultural / language divides that make international marriages a trial. In teaching, the impact likewise would be immense. Students learning English supported by such a device, could use it to make connections in the Japanese environment, helping to build their English. For new students of low English ability, it would be a fantastic support that could get them integrated more quickly into the English instructional framework, or for the non-Japanese children in our Japanese lessons.
  • We have been looking forward to this for a long time! Especially since access has become more widespread and the world closer. Kids love to collaborate and exchange ideas with kids from other cultures! This will really bridge the language barrier! - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Apr 23, 2016

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • I don't know the answer to this one, but how best the current crop of voice-activated assistants can support learning. - kathyschrock kathyschrock Apr 8, 2016
  • Calls into question the whole field of World Languages. If viable, cheap and accessible speech to speech translators come online, why would one spend years learning a language? I have answers, but a good discussion starter - mporter mporter Apr 11, 2016
  • - kevin-johnson kevin-johnson Apr 16, 2016I wish to respond to the above comment. As a teacher of English at an International school, a growing sector, primarily in China. There is and will be a demand on learning English - these devices (as I suggest above) could accelerate that growth. English as the super-power language, gives learners access to the best universities in the world; and this is often the end-game of international English education. English also has the most robust presence on the Web (80% perhaps) and holds the best stores of knowledge in the most significant disciplines from science to psychology.

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry?

  • We teach students how to respond in a written format–writing the research-based argument, the narrative, the journalism article. Next we need to teach students how to 'think' in the oral form...the Socrates days. Speech-to-speech will nudge us to use our verbal skills; thus, redesigning the way we think and communicate. "Slack" has casued us to rethink the way we communicate replacing email. - michael.lambert michael.lambert Apr 2, 2016
  • Full speech-to-speech translation can help a non-native speaker in the classroom and the rest of the class to open up live channels of communication. And, there would be no limitations on who a student could Skype with to learn more about something if there was no language barrier in the way. - kathyschrock kathyschrock Apr 8, 2016
  • Students gain more confidence and feel more accepted in their school. Teachers would be able to communicate more effectively to non-native speaking students and their families.- cbsteighner cbsteighner Apr 9, 2016
  • - kevin-johnson kevin-johnson Apr 16, 2016Yes, I affirm the above. The potential in the world-wide English as a Foreign Language teaching-learning market (a burgeoning market) is immense.
  • I agree, the potential for this technology to accelerate language acquisition, to engage students more deeply in global competency development, to involve second language parents and for many more uses - it is huge and at very early stages. - maria maria Apr 22, 2016 I totally agree with all! - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Apr 23, 2016

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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