News / Science & Technology

New Apps Give Users a World of Languages in Their Pocket

Silhouettes of visitors are seen at the App pavilion during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Feb. 27, 2013.
Silhouettes of visitors are seen at the App pavilion during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Feb. 27, 2013.
New apps are aiming to make traveling in a foreign country easier by putting translation tools in tourists' pockets, makers of the devices said on Monday.
A set of free apps for iOS devices from the language learning company Rosetta Stone give users short exercises so they can learn the basics of another language and commonly used phrases in French, Spanish, German and Italian.
The exercises in the Rosetta Stone Navigator apps use speech recognition to test whether the user is repeating a word correctly.
“It's about speaking - not just about reading and thinking through it,” said Jonathan Mudd, senior director of global communications at Rosetta Stone, which is based in Virginia.
“When you get over that obstacle of hearing yourself say words in new languages, and messing them up, you will get comfortable a lot faster,” he added.
Another free language app launched by Duolingo, for Android and iPhones, makes learning a new language into a game. Languages are broken down into different components, such as tenses and nouns, and when a user perfects a skill they can unlock new ones.
Other language apps, such as Google Translate and Vocre for iPhone and Android, use speech recognition technology paired with translation technology to translate speech. After speaking a phrase, the app converts it to one of dozens of other languages.
An app called VerbalizeIt, for iPhone and Android, takes a different approach. It connects translators around the globe with people struggling with a language.
Users choose the language they need to be translated and after touching a button on the app they are connected to a person on the other end of the phone. The app is free but the cost of the service ranges from $1-2 per minute.
“That call from the customer is routed through our virtual call center to the next available translator for that given language you need,” said Ryan Frankel, chief executive officer of New York-based company VerbalizeIt.
The company said more than 8,500 translators, who have passed a language proficiency exam, work for it. It has also launched a platform for businesses to translate documents.
“We realized that when you build up this community of translators they're capable of doing so much more than phone translations,” Frankel said.
He added that it may still be some time before apps can accurately translate speech from one language to another.
“I think the biggest hurdle - and this is the reason why you will always need humans - is that understanding local context, dialect, sarcasm and emotion is difficult. There's so much that a machine cannot pick up on that humans are capable of picking up on,” Frankel said.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs