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October 12, 2004

NEC Develops Real-Time, Speaking E-J Translation Device

Japanese electronics firm NEC has developed a device that converts spoken Japanese to English and vice versa, according to the NewScientist.com news service. The device, set to be launched only in Japan in a few months, is about the size of a handheld PDA and consists of three components - a speech recognition engine, translation software and a voice generator. Spoken English or Japanese is recognised and converted into text, which is then translated and vocalised by the voice synthesiser. The entire process takes about one second.

The device will initially be available only in this country and aimed at Japanese tourists and business travellers. NEC researcher Akitoshi Okumura says about 100 different native speaker voices are required to train the system and there is no reason why it cannot be adapted for other languages also. But some work remains to improve the functionality of the device, particularly dealing with problems such as background noise and different accents.

Alex Rudnicky, an expert in machine translation at Carnegie Mellon University in the U.S., believes the device will only be useful in certain situations. "For the user, it's a question of value," he says. "If you're having a medical emergency in a foreign country you'll be very happy to have the device. If you're trying to buy something from a street vendor, pointing at what you want works just fine."
Device Translates Spoken Japanese and English

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