JahJah. Microsoft announced that it will be giving its users a free update that will integrate Windows Live Translator into MS Office 2003 and 2007, while JaJah is now offering free voice translations from Mandarin into English through JaJah Babel.Automated translation services seem to be getting more and more traction these days. Today, we saw announcements about new translation related products from both Microsoft and telephony service
While JaJah doesn't specifically pitch this new service in the context of the Olympics, it is obviously releasing this just in time for the opening ceremonies.
Out of the two announcements, Microsoft's is probably the least exciting, but, on the other hand, there is a good chance that it will see a lot more actual use than JaJah's voice translation. The Microsoft Research Machine Translation team has just released this update to MS Office 2003 and 2007 to the Office team for integration, but they already offer instructions on their blog for setting this up yourself without having to wait for the official update.
The integration with Windows Live Translator allows you to translate English texts into Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, German, Italian, Arabic, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish, as well as vice versa. We have tested the Windows Live Translator and the translations were generally about as accurate as you would expect from machine translations. There are various mistakes and words it doesn't recognize, but overall, the translation is relatively readable and gives you at least some impression of the original text.
JaJah Babel is clearly the sexier product of the two. You can call access numbers in the U.S., England, or Australia, and after a voice prompt, you simply speak the text you want to be translated into Mandarin. The service will then replay your message, you acknowledge the accuracy of the input, and after a short delay, you will hear the translation. Given our general lack of knowledge when it comes to Mandarin here, we can't vouch for the accuracy of the translation, but the service itself worked very well and seemed to understand at least our initial input accurately.
If you are in China, of course, the fact that you have to call an international number to get this to work is a bit of a limitation.
Other Translation Services
There seems to be quite an interest in working on consumer oriented translation services right now. Just yesterday, we wrote about Mloovi, which translates RSS feeds trough Google Translate, and earlier last month, we wrote about the collaborative dictionary and translation service Lingro.
JaJah's product is especially interesting here because it takes speech as its input and it will get even more interesting once it works for other languages beyond Mandarin as well. JaJah is offering this service based on IBM's technology, and given IBM's expertise in doing voice-to-voice translation, it will probably only be a matter of time before we see support for more languages. Besides other projects, IBM already supports the U.S. Army with an English to Iraqi Arabic translation service.
There has always been a lot of hype around the possibilities of instant voice translations, but very few products were ever good enough to make it in the consumer/business market. JaJah represents a major step forward here, even if its voice prompts make the service a bit less frictionless than the science-fiction ideal if autmated, instant translation.