Microsoft's Working on a Real Electronic Babel Fish That'll Have You Speaking a New Language Instantly

By Sam Gibbs on at

It almost sounds too good to be true, but apparently Microsoft’s developed the holy grail for Brits abroad -- a piece of software that learns your voice and uses it to speak in a language you simply can’t.

Working a bit like a one-way Babel Fish, or even a primitive version of Star Trek’s universal translator, the new program reads out text in another language using a profile of your own voice. It’ll do speech recognition too, so you can literally speak into the thing and have it speak back to you, or the confused person you’re trying to talk to in increasingly loud and slow English, in any language you choose while still sounding recognisably like you.

It’s being developed by Microsoft Research Asia, and was recently demonstrated in Redmond with impressive results. At the moment the system needs about an hour of voice training to develop a model of your voice, but once that’s done it’ll spit things out in any one of 26 languages including Mandarin, Spanish and Italian.

As a language-challenged monolingual Englishman, I can safely say this would be truly awesome when visiting non-native English speaking countries. The number of times I’ve massacred another language in an attempt to simply get a pint a beer makes me shudder. Turn this into a phone app and you’ll have an instant communicator. It’d be better if it could also translate what they’re saying to you on the fly, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? [Technology Review]