The universal translator?

In my recent discussions around CORE’s ten trends in schools a common issue that is raised is how the ways we interface with computers is changing, and the implications of this for the ways we think about computer use in classrooms. The assumption that ‘touch typing‘ is a core skill to be learned for the computer age is fast being challenged as we see the developments in a variety of interface technologies, not least, the interaction through touch  that we’re seeing in devices such as the Android phones, iPhone and iPad, and through gesture with devices such as the Wii or Xbox360.

While these interfaces rely on  movement, another theme that comes up often is the use of voice – both as a means of controlling the technology, and as something that the technology itself can process, as in the case of translation from one language to another. The video above illustrates this to good effect, showing the use of smart phones as translation devices being used by soldiers in Afghanistan. It’s part of a trial of  three different systems for in-the-field spoken language translation for English speakers that may not know the common language of a country they visit being carried out by DARPA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Now, imagine the application of this technology in language learning situations – what might this mean for the future of language learning – or simply for the ways we might accommodate speakers of languages other than English in our (NZ) classrooms? Consider also the implications for our curriculum and the ways we might be preparing students for a future-focussed world in a global economy,  affecting travel, trade etc.?

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