Inventive ways to tackle language barriers

In last week’s blog post, we talked about the tech company Souktel and the steps they are taking to help refugees overcome language barriers. Much like Souktel, larger tech companies are catching onto the demand for this type of technology, and are starting to tackle language barriers on a grander scale.

For example, Google Noto is advertised as “a typeface for the world.” In collaboration with typeface design corporation Monotype, Google unveiled Noto as a typeface that encompasses fonts for 800 different languages. Beyond easing digital communication across global platforms, Noto allows the protection of languages that otherwise had no online footprint. “To me, the aim is to serve that human community that would otherwise be deprived of the ability to have a digital heritage,” says Kamal Mansour, a Linguistic Typographer at Monotype.

Noto has emerged as a technology that is preserving information by bringing hundreds of thousands of characters to the digital age. Through scrupulous research and with the help of language experts from around the world, Noto has given communities the opportunity to advance with the technological world.

Just look to Urdu Nastaliq, a calligraphic hand in Arabic script used in places like Bangladesh and Pakistan. Prior to Noto, Urdu speakers did not have access to the digital world via their own language. Noto has now presented this community with the means to preserve their script, while simultaneously offering them a platform to record their culture (i.e digitally cataloging poetry and literature).

Then there’s Waverly Lab’s Pilot Earpiece. The technology comes as two headphones linked via bluetooth to a smartphone app. The headphones use speech recognition to automatically translate spoken language.

Pilot Earbuds

Pilot is still in its early phases—the headphones work with five languages and can only be used when connected to wifi—but once fully developed the technology has the potential to be revolutionary. Five more languages, including Arabic and Russian, will be added by the end of the year.

Although Pilot is being marketed primarily for family and small business use, the developers recognize the influence it could have on humanitarian and aid groups in the future. “We’ve gotten emails from nonprofits in Greece that are working to help Syrian refugees, who have asked us to help them translate Arabic,” says Waverly founder and CEO Andrew Ochoa. “We’re doing something that could have such a huge impact on society.” With Pilot’s nearly instantaneous translation and ability to cancel out ambient noise, its implementation into the international aid system could transform the flow of information between aid workers and those in need of help.

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