iPhone calls out Arabic translation

At WorldAccent we use a mixture of PCs and Macs for our multilingual typesetting, but many of us firmly belong to the Apple camp in our hearts. So when a new iPhone app does a clever thing in the world of translation, we sit up and take notice.

One of great functions on the new iPhone 3GS is voice control. And now a new app for the iPhone and Blackberry claims to translate your speech between Arabic and English.

It is called Mobile Speech to Speech Arabic Translator and it promises an Arabic translation on screen as well as spoken out loud. It’s worth noting, for the pedants among us, technically this translation of spoken word to spoken word is Arabic interpreting, what we do at WorldAccent, dealing with the written word, is Arabic translation.

As yet, the app is not on general release having been developed for use by the US Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and other military customers. Perhaps not surprising given their ongoing problems with Arabic interpreters.

Obviously we haven’t been able to try out the app and so can’t vouch for how well it would work. It certainly could be intriguing for getting around town or ordering a coffee. But, as always with such non-human translation, I wouldn’t want to entrust a formal introduction or something that really mattered to a company’s reputation to it. Most likely, it will be subject to usual vagaries and misunderstandings inherent with machine translation – a worrying thought if being used in life and death situations!

While I’m on the subject of iPhone apps, it seems to me there’s more to be said on the subject of app translation. The Apple Store is spreading from country to country and, if you are an app developer, translation of at least your product description seems a no-brainer. But more on that another time…

Riding out the recession with global thinking

Much has been made of apparent green shoots in the economy, both in the UK and in the US. Here at WorldAccent we won’t pretend to know whether the recession will prove to be V-shaped, U-shaped or even W-shaped. What we do know is that the last few months have seen us busily working away on a raft of projects – which in part explains the long gap since my last blog entry.

I’ve suggested before that translation can form part of a strategy for surviving recession, and this is certainly a direction some have been looking in, to smooth out the harshest parts of the downturn.

Equally it is true that the downturn, although global, is not even across that globe. A couple of recent snapshots illustrate this well. According to the latest figures, the Chinese economy is showing resilience in the face of the meltdown, reporting growth figures of over seven percent. Meanwhile, several London department stores are reported to be tweaking their floor space, hiring Arabic speaking staff and stocking up on high-end designer labels to cater for an expected boom of shoppers from the Middle East prior to Ramadan. Not surprising when figures from the New West End Company show “a Saudi Arabian visitor spends 60% more than the average American shopper.”

Perhaps this global activity is just as well, with one city whiz providing a gloomy assessment of the outlook for the UK economy:
“I do not anticipate meaningful recovery in the next three to four years…it will be a painful and unavoidable process for the UK economy that, in my view, precludes near-term recovery.”

One thing is beyond doubt: the credit crunch and wider recession has demonstrated that we live in a truly globalised world, for better or worse. And whether it is selling products or services to visitors in the UK or making use of the weak pound to export those goods overseas, talking to the world is a business necessity.