At the end of July last year, a short article reprint came out on the tech site Cnet called, “Google has a ‘near perfect’ universal translator” (the type of Star Trek fame). Part of the content from the article is based on a conversation with Brazilian Hugo Barra, Android’s former product guru, who says such devices will be everywhere within several years. As a test language, he was working with an English-Portuguese pair, for which he says the accuracy is already “near perfect”.
As I imagine what that means for someone like me, – or at least the me from almost 15 years ago – trying to learn the beautiful language of Brazil, I wonder for a brief moment if I would have gone forward with the entire endeavor. The easy answer is ‘of course!’, but what about for the conservative 160,000 people globally who are learning Portuguese? (That figure is from Portugal’s Camões Institute back in December 2012, with the mention that the real numbers are likely twice as high, though I’d imagine there’s even more learners today, especially those interested in Brazilian Portuguese.)
The ace up Brazil’s sleeve, and its weapon against universal translator devices of the near future, is that Brazilian Portuguese is so nice to hear and speak. Just ask Lenine!
Putting the hard work of learning a language and the niceties of reaching a certain level of fluency aside, I would bet that people in my shoes would still find themselves using the universal translator. Two situations where it’d come in handy are when doing something beauraucratic and when following technical instructions. But the ‘unspoken’ negative side of owning such a device is having two extra voices, or perhaps two other versions of what you and your conversational partner just said being repeated back to you, or played aloud. When technology advances, there’ll surely be an earpiece included in the package, but even so…
When traveling to a random country for whatever reason, I’d surely love to use a universal translator, but I still see langauge learning remaining the same for now and into the forseeable future. People will continue to learn langauges because it’s a rewarding and pleasing experience. And as long as we’re not in the Matrix film, there will still be teachers, and services like Street Smart Brazil, that are needed.
By the way, if you’re wondering what the far-off future holds…