Lost in translation

Written by: Eureka! | Published:

The world is getting smaller. Technology and the internet has brought people closer together as language barriers continue to fall and become far less of a barrier that they once were. Gone are the days of taking a phrase book along for a city break to the continent. The running joke is that many Europeans now speak better English than the English. They may be right.

Language barriers do still exist, however. Anyone that has been to the Far East, take China as an example, will know that there is still a huge language barrier, on the streets at least. While Google Translate can be a quick ad hoc way of communicating a short statement, any kind of conversation is normally lost and replaced with awkward smiles, confused stares and slower more pronunciated speech. Communication is lost in translation.

The Challenge

The challenge this month is to therefore come up with a way of instantly translating from one language to another, essentially giving everyone the luxury of having a translator accompanying you abroad, whispering away in your ear.

Any device should be small and mobile, and be able to almost instantly translate spoken conversation between a number of languages. To avoid any issues of latency these units should be stand alone and not rely on a wifi or Bluetooth connection to function.

Let’s also assume that the other person will have a similar device, so it does not need to translate your speech. What’s more, the software should also have the ability to learn new words and dialects.


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Coffee Time Challenge is just a bit of fun, but it is based on a real engineering solution. If you send in your ideas by using the comment button below, we can add your solution as an alternative – perhaps something funny, practical, cheap or, of course, innovative.

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