Google has already developed an automatic system for translating text on computers, which is being polished by scanning millions of multi-lingual websites and documents. So far it covers 52 languages, adding Haitian Creole last week.
Recently Google also launched a feature where a user can search on the search engine by saying the key words instead of typing. Now it is working on combining the two technologies to produce software capable of understanding a caller's voice and translating it into a synthetic equivalent in a foreign language. The phone would analyse "packages" of speech, listening to the speaker until it understands the full meaning of words and phrases, before attempting translation. "We think speech-to-speech translation should be possible and work reasonably well in a few years' time," said Franz Och, Google's Head of Translation Services.
Although automatic text translators are now reasonably effective, voice recognition has proved more challenging. "Everyone has a different voice, accent and pitch," said Och. "But recognition should be effective with mobile phones because by nature they are personal to you. The phone should get a feel for your voice from past voice search queries, for example."