If there’s a single thing that can be said to stand in the way of humanity overcoming its differences and becoming truly globalised, it’s the language barrier. For that reason, instant translation technologies have long been a tool in the sci-fi writers’ toolbox – from the Tardis in ‘Doctor Who’ and the Babelfish in ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ to ‘Star Trek’s aptly-named Universal Translator.

It seems, though, that real-world technology is finally catching up. Google’s Translate tool has grown more powerful in recent years, with voice- and image-recognition technology and a new start-up, Waverly Labs, recently launched crowdfunding for its in-ear ‘Pilot’ tech; however, both technologies are considered to be too slow at present to offer a truly instant method of translation.

All that could be about to chance, though, thanks to Ili.

‘Ili’ could be the way forward for instant translation

Instant translation - hand holding up an Ily translation device
© 2016 Logbar Inc.

Ili from Japanese tech company Logbar is a mobile-device-sized piece of kit that holds a translation dictionary in its memory and use a speedy processor to translate in, Logbar says, almost real time. 0.2 seconds, in fact, which isn’t quite instant but no worse than the kind of lag you might expect on Skype, for example.

The device detects what you’re saying, processes the translation and delivers it back through a speaker. It’s not quite a universal translator – Ili only holds a certain amount of language in its memory and is designed more for travellers who need common phrases translated than for members of complex meetings.

Logbar promotes it as being useful for “dining, shopping, finding transportation, and much more.”

What are the downsides?

Perhaps the biggest downside of Ili, and it is a big one, is that the translation only works one way. At launch, it will support translating English to Spanish, Mandarin and Japanese, as well as Mandarin to English or Japanese.

However, it will only allow you to translate what you say into other languages – you won’t receive a translation when the waiter answers you, for instance. While one-way instant translation might be useful in certain situations, it does present a rather large barrier to helping you communicate.

That might put people off paying the price tag for the tech ($189 for pre-order, $249 after that).

Instant translation might not be the answer – yet

While Ili has its downsides, it’s far more reassuring to see this as a stepping stone to brighter things in the future – a truly instant, two-way device that offers instant translation.

For most of us though, the easiest way to communicate with people who speak different languages is still the old way – learn the language.

If you’d like to take up language learning for travel, work or study, contact All Languages today and talk to us about your needs. We can offer bespoke language learning packages delivered in a way that suits you.


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