Machine Translation

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Marisa Baggett’s “Sushi Secrets”

Congratulations to Allison in Santa Barbara, CA, who won Friday’s free copy of Sushi Secrets by Marisa Baggett!

This week’s Economist has a very interesting article titled Conquering Babel about machine translation, the idea that advances in speech recognition, translation, and reproduction will (sooner than we think) render human interpreters redundant.

Now, the possibility of traveling with a translating machine would, on one hand, be pretty sweet. Even a gifted polyglot can’t learn everything (and, in my observation, people who say they speak ten languages are just dabbling in most of them). So, no offense to Letts, but let’s say I’m admitting here in front of everyone that I’m never going to attempt to learn Latvian. But if I met a Latvian, I’d be glad to hear about life in Riga if I had a box that would translate my new friend’s words for her or him. That would be great. Sign me up for that.

At the same time, the thing about learning a language is that it changes you a bit in the process. And changes you for the better is what I say. A person who has learned a foreign language might not sound as fluent as one using a magic translator, but I believe that that person is going to be way more interesting to talk to.

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2 thoughts on “Machine Translation

  1. Learning another person’s language gives some insight into what is important to that culture and also reaches out to people through the effort of trying to learn something so integral to that culture.

    • Exactly. Right? Perhaps in a very transactional dialog (How much is this? Is this the way to the Colosseum? Are you a doctor?), it doesn’t matter so much. But if you’re trying to create a relationship (even a temporary one), the other person’s language is part of who they are.

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