Skip to main content

Innovative technologies are removing language barriers faster than expected

There was a time when international language barriers were a serious limiting factor to the global economy. Sure, there have always been people who can speak multiple languages, but it’s been far from practical to carry on multi-lingual conversations across the globe for the majority of history. All of that has changed over the past decade-plus, and specifically in the past few months. New and sophisticated technologies have been introduced, or are currently being developed, and many believe they’ll change the world by completely removing language barriers.

Translation in Healthcare Settings

The need for translators in hospitals and emergency healthcare settings is dire. In fact, many organisations are forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for these services. “We were just about to spend $500,000 on interpretation in 2011 when we said, ‘We need to find a better way,’” said Linda Dougan (opens in new tab), director of patient relations and language services at Allegheny Health Network.

That ‘better way’ came in the form of a telephone service that provides live interpretation in more than 200 languages. The service charges by the minute, but allowed Dougan and her department to cut costs by roughly 70 per cent.

Real-Time Video Chat Translator

At the end of 2014, Skype released a preview (opens in new tab) of its Translator service that allows people to video chat in two different languages with real time translations provided on the screen. Because it’s currently in a preview stage, only English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Mandarin are available. However, new languages are expected to be added soon.

Image Translation Capabilities

If you’ve traveled internationally recently, you probably know about the handful of apps (opens in new tab) that now allow you to snap a picture of written text and instantly translate it into your language. This lets you read menus, street signs, and even newspapers or magazines without speaking the language. It opens up incredible doors and allows travelers to totally immerse themselves in new cultures.

Looking Towards the Future

Are these technologies ultimately good or bad for society? On the one hand, they’re extremely helpful in situations that require quick translation. On the other hand, it’s possible that the educational system will place less of an emphasis on language learning. After all, why spend four, five, or six years learning a language when your smartphone can do it for you? There are both positives and negatives, but one thing is for certain: International language barriers are becoming a thing of the past.