Simultaneous Translation: University without Language Barriers
20.06.2012 | lecture, translation, research
Internationalization makes universities face linguistic challenges: do they have to provide their lectures in English or do all foreign students have to learn German? An alternative solution has been developed by the Institute of Anthropomatics at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT): the first computer-based automatic simultaneous translation service at a university worldwide. Professor Alex Waibel and his team presented the system on KIT Campus South.
The system is expected to improve KIT's competitiveness on a global scale and to make it more appealing to foreign students. “At KIT, we have about 16% foreign students. At universities in the USA, this proportion is up to 50%,” says KIT President Professor Horst Hippler. “In international competition for the best scientists, we are still behind.” The lecture translator is aimed at helping attract talented students from abroad and to overcome language barriers. The service will benefit not only foreign students, but also the hearing-impaired.
Real-time translation into English
“The lecture translator automatically records the lecture, transcribes the text into a written version, and translates it into English in real-time,” says Professor Alex Waibel. “Students can then follow the lecture via their PC or mobile phone.” The translator also translates transparencies presented during the lecture. Past lectures can be found on the PC in the written version and accessed via search terms.
The lecture translator combines the technologies of automatic speech recognition and statistic machine translation in an integrated system. Auxiliary components structure the text, handle punctuation, treat German compound words, record the lecture, and display the translation result. These components are combined by an innovative service infrastructure.
The lecture translator is currently in the testing phase
Presently, the lecture translator is being tested in lectures of the Departments of Informatics and Mechanical Engineering at KIT. It is expected to be ready for use in the Geography Department next semester. More and more subject areas will follow gradually. The plan for the future also includes providing greater language choice. “The translation is not always perfect,” says Waibel, “but it has become a language tool which enables students to follow the lectures better, in spite of language barriers.”
Margit Rödder from the Department of Communications concludes that the service is now already a major improvement for non-German speaking students, despite a few errors which still have to be corrected. “The foreign students say that the translations have already helped them a great deal,” she reports. Visitors to the university in Karlsruhe will not be the only ones to profit from the service. “Of course we will want to make it available to other universities and institutions once the lecture translator is finished,” she announced. However, she was not able to say when that will be or when the testing phase will be completed.
Decades of research at KIT
The lecture translator is the result of two decades of research conducted by Alex Waibel and his scientific and commercial partners. These are in particular the Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, and Mobile Technologies LLC & GmbH, New York. The German lecture translator is also financed from funds from the European Commission and the German Excellence Initiative.