Real-time Chinese/English translation technology wanted
March 5, 2019 8:30 PM   Subscribe

I’m moving to a new job where I will often be the only non-Chinese-speaking person in the room. I need recommendations for technology to do real-time translation which takes Chinese spoken input and turns it into English text and/or audio (preferably both).

An iOS app is preferable, but Mac OS software or even a standalone device would be suitable. Quality and speed are important, price is not.

I have the Google translate app on my iPhone; the latest version has a “conversation” function which produces text in response to a voice input, but the performance is flaky. Please recommend something better!
posted by Wet Spot to Technology (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Unless you are the NSA and have access to technology that isn't available to the general public, the only workable answer to this is "hire a translator." Your second-best answer is almost certainly Google Translate.
posted by tapir-whorf at 10:55 PM on March 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yes, not wishing to be flippant but you already have the state of the art technology right there, which is why human translators and interpreters still have work. Speech recognition and translation are both hard problems.

If there's an unlimited budget for tech for this, might that be diverted to hiring an interpreter for you?
posted by altolinguistic at 12:11 AM on March 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I work as a CH-EN translator sometimes and haven't encountered anything better than google translate for stuff like that (other than a person). You can also download the PLECO app (just for words though) and the Baidu translate app (Baidu is Chinese google) for variety/more options.
posted by bearette at 7:51 AM on March 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

You'd need an Android phone for this newly released live transcribe app, maybe worth a try. Hopefully it's better than the back end tech used with voice Google Translate, which I find to be ok, not great for Mandarin. If it works well, then copy and paste into a translation app.
posted by hampanda at 10:25 AM on March 6, 2019

Live Transcribe is nice, but it doesn't translate. You'd have to copy-and-paste into Translate.

I've looked into this before for Japanese-English realtime translation, and yeah Google Translate seems to be the best option. However, Google Translate is pretty meh for Japanese (and I suspect for Chinese as well). Will give you the general idea but just completely fails on a lot of things (even when not trying to also do voice recognition).
posted by thefoxgod at 6:54 PM on March 6, 2019

Actualfax translator here. I work from French into English, though.

Agree with tapir-whorf that you basically need a simultaneous interpreter team. And a third person to transcribe in real time.

Speech recognition and machine translation are both - not quite in their infancy, but definitely nowhere near advanced enough to do what you want with any kind of speed/accuracy. Especially for Chinese, which is hard even for humans.
posted by Tamanna at 10:26 PM on March 6, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I suspected the technology isn’t there yet, given the general state of Chinese/English text translation. I asked on the off-chance a breakthrough occurred that I didn’t know about.
posted by Wet Spot at 12:34 AM on March 7, 2019

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