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AT&T Goes Multilingual, Launches Outsourced Interpreter Services and Translator App

The company is using human- and machine-powered technology to break down language barriers.

Have you ever tried to communicate with a person who doesn’t speak your language? The default response in most cases is to resort to exaggerated hand gestures. In the end, the pantomime usually doesn’t get you very far.

That’s why businesses have long relied on workers with diverse language skills to serve as a buffer for these scenarios. Banks staff their branches with tellers who speak Spanish, Hindi, or any other language that is relevant to the population they serve. Even if a customer is able to speak English, many may prefer to do business in their native tongue.

AT&T is launching two new services to address the translation needs of businesses and business professionals.

A Remote Translator, at Your Service

First, the telecom company announced a partnership with Language Line Services. AT&T subscribers will pay for AT&T On Demand Interpreter on a per-month, per-use basis, with standard pricing at $9.99 a month plus $2.99 a minute for each connected call.

Language Line Services boasts support of over 170 different languages, though Mobeen Khan, executive director of Advanced Mobility Solutions at AT&T, conceded that most U.S. customers would probably need translation services for about 20 of the most spoken languages in the world.

“If you look at the demand curve of the languages, for example in the U.S., the top 10 are the ones you can count on your fingers,” Khan says. “From a couple Chinese languages and accents, Spanish, French and maybe if you go out in the West Coast there are Vietnamese communities, Thai communities — there are at least 20 that are really, really essential, and then the rest are sort of nice to have.”

By dialing *4 (*I for Interpreter) on their phones, businesses that subscribe to the On-Demand Interpreter can now outsource their translation services without the cost of employing someone for that purpose. This is ideal for businesses that offer airline, legal or health services, Khan said, because they often find a need for translations on short notice or for on-the-spot scenarios.

“I'm sure you've been on an airline where there are citizens coming from all over the world, and they are asking for something, and you're trying to find another agent who can speak their language at the airport,” Khan says.

“There are very crucial situations where the availability of the right interpreter could mean the right diagnosis or the right emergency room treatment. So for some [businesses] it's almost critical to have, and for others it's a very nice add-on to service their customers,” he adds.

An App That Understands Any Language

Computer-powered translators aren’t really new. Google has had its online translator in service for years now.

But thanks in part to Siri, there’s renewed interest in voice-recognition and speech-to-text technology. This has now spilled over into voice-to-text translation.

AT&T has built a cloud-based translation platform, powered by its AT&T Watson speech-recognition technology, for its new mobile app, AT&T Translator.

In a demo of the app, two users are seen conversing through their iPads. One person speaks into the iPad in English, while the other speaks into his iPad in Spanish. As each person talks, the words are transcribed by the application and then translated into the user’s preferred language in text in real-time.

Check out a video of the app in action, below.

Both of these products are evidence of technology’s transformative powers to help close the language gap between people, cultures and nations.

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Jul 03 2012 Spice IT

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