There are a lot of things in life that we take for granted. Our ability to move, to communicate, to make ourselves understood by other people through a common language… until something happens that robs us of these abilities, forcing us to look beyond traditional forms of communication. Colds, flus and itchy throats have been sprouting like mushrooms this season, and not wanting to be left behind, I developed my own case of a sore throat, which left me with no voice whatsoever for several days.
It is common knowledge that when you lose one of your senses, another one develops. The only sense that developed for me was that of helplessness due to my inability to communicate verbally in everyday life. Without the use of my voice, I felt unsafe walking down the street. I felt helpless, dreading each interaction, resorting to using a notepad to communicate my coffee order to the barista. Isolation followed, since all social life goes out the window when you cannot speak, and it made me realise how little we appreciate our ability to communicate in our everyday lives, with our friends, our colleagues, even with total strangers. How safe it makes us feel to have a common language, and to be able to make ourselves understood through it, without effort or struggle.
For some, of course, this is not just a short-term challenge. Not everybody can rely on a spoken language to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Fortunately, there is a lot of exciting research that is happening right now in the language industry that aims to give everybody a voice through technological advances.
One such project was conceived by two business and aeronautics engineering students from the University of Washington who won this year’s ‘Lemelson-MIT Student Prize’ for their invention of gloves that can translate sign language into text or speech. “SignAloud” carries sensors that record hand movement and translate that data into a computer via Bluetooth. The associated word or phrase can then be heard through a speaker. Contrary to previous inventions of a similar nature, the gloves are lightweight and easy to use on a daily basis, very much in the same spirit as hearing aids or contact lenses.
While the obvious market here is the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, these gloves have the potential to be used in other medical fields where there are barriers to communication, such as in the treatment of stroke patients.
This is just one example among many, and it is fantastic to see advances being made in the translation world (in the broader sense of the term) to help those who need it most. When we hear “translation”, we are inclined to think of the rendering of written content from one language to another, but it is actually a much wider universe where so much has already been achieved… and where so much more is yet to be explored.
Here at GlobaLexicon, we look forward to the next advances in language science and are proud to give our clients and our teams the power to speak to the world.