Tibetan mobiles

A mobile phone which can send and receive text messages in Tibetan has been developed in China, according to this report. Such phones have apparently existed for a few years, but the new phone is a bit different as it can recognise handwritten input in Tibetan.

A useful Tibetan-related site I came across today is a English-Tibetan dictionary, which displays the Tibetan words in Wylie transliteration and in the Tibetan script.

Are any of you learning Tibetan?

Translator specs

A Japanese company has come up with a gizmo called a Tele Scouter / テレスカウター which can translate what people say to you in foreign languages and display the results via a retinal display attached to your glasses.

The Tele Scouter is a small gadget that fixes onto glasses which incorporates a retinal display, a camera and a microphone. The microphone picks up the language and transmits it to a small computer worn around the waist, which sends it to a server for translation. The translation is then displayed on the retina. The device cannot currently keep up with language spoken at normal speed, and is a bit bulky, but it’s an interesting development.

If the size can be reduced and the speed and reliability increase, this device could be really useful. If it could also translate and/or transliterate written language, if would be even more useful, especially in for languages written with different writing systems.

Text to speech

I came across a useful site today that can read out texts in many languages and voices, including Arabic, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish. While I’ve seen similar text-to-speech sites for languages like English, Spanish, French and German, this is the first one I’ve found that can read Arabic, Czech, Polish, etc.

This text-to-speech site can also handle Chinese, Japanese and Korean, and has avatars reading the text.

The quality of the speech on these sites varies – for some languages it sounds fairly natural, for others it sounds artificial. It also seems to depend on the texts you use.

Here are some samples:


모든 인간은 태어날 때부터 자유로우며 그 존엄과 권리에 있어 동등하다. 인간은 천부적으로 이성과 양심을 부여받았으며 서로 형제애의 정신으로 행동하여야 한다.

Wszyscy ludzie rodzą się wolni i równi pod względem swej godności i swych praw. Są oni obdarzeni rozumem i sumieniem i powinni postępować wobec innych w duchu braterstwa.

يولد جميع الناس أحراراً متساوين في الكرامة والحقوق. وقد وهبوا عقلاً وضميراً وعليهم ان يعامل بعضهم بعضاً بروح اﻹخاء.

Mobile sign language

A team at the University of Washington has developed software that enables people to communicate in sign language via cell phones in the USA, according to ScienceDaily. The system transmits the face and hands in higher definition than other parts of the video, which reduces the bandwidth needed and will work on US cell phones and networks, which have lower data transmission rates than those in Europe and Asia. They are also working on a way to recognise when a person isn’t signing to reduce the processing power needed. So soon ASL users will be able to sign to each other over their phone, rather than having to rely on texting.

Such systems are already available in Japan and parts of Europe.

Do any of you use sign language on your mobile/cell phone, or do you know anyone who does?

Preserving and reviving languages – a high-tech solution

A hand-held device called a Phraselator, that can translate between English and a variety of other languages, has been adapted by a Cherokee business man, Don Thornton, to help with the preservation and revival of Native American languages, according to an article I found today.

You can talk into the Phraselator in English, it recognises your voice, translates your words and then reads the translation aloud. It was originally developed for military use in Afghanistan to translate from English into Dari, Pashto. Quite a few more languages have been added since then and the device is now used by used by the military, police and in disaster relief.

When he read about the Phraselator in 2001, Don Thornton thought that it could be used to help to save indigenous languages. After a long campaign for the right to use the technology, he set up a company, Thornton Media Inc. to do just that, and now works with over 70 tribes. The device is being used by and with elders to record words, phrases, stories and songs in their native languages, along with English translations, and then other members of the tribes are able to use it to learn their languages.

The device enables people to preserve and revive their own languages in their own ways without relying on others. For this reason, because it emulates oral traditions, and because of it’s ease of use, it has be adopted with enthusiasm by many. Thornton acknowledges that it would be better if the languages were passed on in the home from generation to generation, however this is not always possible. This device offers an alternative solution.

Green with envy

Today I discovered quite a good online translator that translates between a number of different languages from Arabic to Russian. I’ve been using it to get an English translation of the Arabic text I’m adding to a website to ensure that the text is going in the right places. This is necessary where the translation is inadequately labelled, or doesn’t follow the original English text.

When translating between Arabic and English, the results are often a bit strange, probably due to the very different structure of the two languages, but they give you the gist of the text. Here’s an example of a sentence in Arabic, with the English translation from the online translator, and the original English text:

كمجمع يجعل من أشد وأكفأ المنافعين لها منذ وقت طويل (The Green).

Online translation: The pool makes it more efficient Almenavaina time since fold l (The Green).

Original version: A campus to make many of its longer-established rivals turn green.

Here are Chinese and Russian translations of the same sentence with online translations into English.

這是一個令很多這所大學的長期競爭者眼紅的校園 [这是一个令很多这所大学的长期竞争者眼红的校园]
This is a campus which command very many this universities’ long-term competitors is jealous

является предметом зависти для многих более старых университетов-конкурентов
Is a subject of envy for many older universities-competitors

In English jealousy is associated with the colour green – the ‘rivals turn green’ with envy. The equivalent expression in Chinese is 令…眼紅 – ‘makes … (their) eyes red’. What colour is jealousy in other languages?

Another useful site I found today is an online spell checker for English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish & Ukranian.

Bilingual toys

According to an article in The Boston Globe, there has been a significant increase in the sale of bilingual toys in the USA. These are toys the speak words and phrases and sing songs, and which are designed to help young children to learn languages. The most popular language combination is English and Spanish, which doesn’t come as much surprise given that there are nearly 48 million people of Hispanic origin in the United States. There are also toys that speak Chinese, Russian, Korean, Greek, Hebrew and various other languages.

A related article gives more details and mentions that toy manufacturers are bringing out bilingual phones, globes, dolls, books and laptops. A market niche toy companies didn’t expect was the parents of children adopted from other countries, who are keen on toys that speak the languages of their children as this helps ‘bridge the gap between the two countries’.

If kids get an early start with learning languages, and see it as something enjoyable, this bodes well for their future.

Do any of you know if there are any bilingual or multilingual computer games?

Websites that speak

The Welsh Language Board / Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg recently added a text-to-speech facility to their website which reads out the text in either Welsh or English. They are using a system called ReadSpeaker, which can make your website talk in various languages, including Japanese, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, English (US and UK), French, German, Dutch, Italian, Finnish, Spanish, Portuguese and Welsh. The ReadSpeaker website itself has been translated into quite a few languages and has the text-to-speech facility for most of them.

Text-to-speech technology for English and other major European languages, and for a few Asian ones, has been around for years and works quite well. However I think Welsh version is quite new and could do with more work to improve the voice quality and intonation.

Here is an example of it reading the following text:

Iaith Geltaidd yw’r Gymraeg, sy’n perthyn yn agos at y Gernyweg a’r Llydaweg. Mae’r Gymraeg sy’n cael ei siarad heddiw yn ddatblygiad uniongyrchol i iaith y chweched ganrif.

Ychydig iawn o enghreifftiau ysgrifenedig o Gymraeg Cynnar sy’n bodoli heddiw, gyda’r cynharaf yn dyddio o ganol y nawfed ganrif. Gwelir nodweddion Hen Gymraeg yng ngwaith y Cynfeirdd, sy’n dyddio o ddiwedd y chweched ganrif, er fod y llawysgrifau’n llawer mwy diweddar.

Gwrandewch y fersiwn Gymraeg

Welsh is a Celtic language, closely related to Cornish and Breton. The Welsh we speak today is directly descended from the language of the sixth century.

Very few examples of Early Welsh exist today, with the earliest dating back to the middle of the ninth century. Elements of Old Welsh are seen in the work of the Cynfeirdd, originally dating back to the sixth century, although all manuscripts are much later than this date.

Listen to the English version

Source: http://www.bwrdd-yr-iaith.org.uk