The biggest challenge for most people visiting a foreign country is the expected language barrier. Now imagine an event like the Olympics where the majority of people in attendance are from another country and speak different languages. Sounds like a problem that needs a solution, right? Well Giovanni Tata of Brigham Young University decided that it was a problem that he and his team could help fix.
From the Deseret News:
It is called “Olympic Translator,” and it is very similar to Google Translate. A person sets the language setting, such as English to Russian, and then speaks a phrase into a phone, and the app produces the translation. The person on the other end can then respond through the same process.
“Basically what we wanted to do was create something that could be used by a large number of volunteers,” said Giovanni Tata, director of creative works at BYU. “Similar to Google Translate … but with that most of the time the translation is OK but not quite perfect. In some cases it conveys the wrong message.”
To compensate for this, Tata and his team have compiled a list of 5,000 commonly used phrases by volunteers or emergency professionals and put the correct translation in their database. He even went to London to talk to the police and emergency service personnel for their thoughts on the most important phrases to translate. If a phrase is not in the database, the app will draw from Google Translate for the translation.
Tata said the beauty of this backup arrangement is that the volunteer can show the native speaker the translation that Google Translate comes up with, and the native speaker can say if it is right or not. The volunteer can then input that information into the database.
Once there are four or five suggestions for a phrase, a native speaker will review it and it can be added to the catalog of phrases.
“We wanted to create something that would be very easy to use but could be upgraded and updated all the time,” Tata said.
Right now, they have all 5,000 phrases available for 20 languages, including Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Italian, French and German. The goal is to complete 50-60 languages, including Albanian and Czech.
Tata is no stranger to the Olympics and the struggle between languages. When Salt Lake City hosted the Olympics in 2002, he helped coordinate a language program for one of the official languages of the Olympics, French.