Brace yourself for shoals of Babel fish references and a galaxy of Universal Translator callouts, as Google announce that they’re only years away from equipping Android phones with voice-translation software. Unfortunately the incredible optimism with which most services are reporting on this is unfounded, but it’ll still be a useful tool.
Google Translate is already online, a service converting phrases and websites between languages – and whose results range from “missing the point” to “absolutely hilarious.” It’s simply not possible for a machine to include all the nuances and slang in any translation, and won’t be until computers are so sophisticated we have to persuade them to work for us. To say that (almost) real-time voice translation by 2015 is a little fanciful, is to say that saving the environment by taking the Unicorn to work is a little unlikely.
But it’ll still be a fantastic service. While we won’t be discussing international philosophies on the phone, a crude but universal translation service will become essential for travellers. As long as your target is patient or willing to work a little to understand (and most cashiers/ticket agents/police officers are paid to do those things) a handy pocket “MAKE WORDS LANGUAGE CLEAR HELP” will be useful. But be warned it’ll sound almost exactly like that quote to the person listening.