Jajah, a popular VoIP service provider, has released a new English/Chinese translation service called JAJAH.Babel just in time for the Olympic Games. The service, which was developed in conjunction with IBM, allows users to call a free number to get a near-instant translation of spoken sentences. The service isn’t meant for voice calls abroad – instead, it’s a handheld translator. After speaking your message into the phone, you hand it to the person you’re speaking with, and the phone spits out the translated message.
Using the service is fairly simple, and should work from any phone line:
How does JAJAH.Babel work? From English to Chinese or in reverse:
Dial JAJAH.Babel from any phone. U.S. local access number: +1.718.513.2969
Choose which language you want your message translated into (either English to Chinese or Chinese to English)
Say your message and press #
You will be able to confirm that your message was properly understood by the system.
The message will automatically be played back in Chinese. If you wish, simply hand your phone to the other person or put the phone on loudspeaker so they hear the message.
The other person can then record a message in Chinese, following the steps above, and you will hear their message in English.
To help test the service I recruited TechCrunch intern Matthew Schulz, who is fluent in Chinese. His conclusion was that it worked surprisingly well. The translation from English to Chinese sounded a little bit awkward, but the meaning was obvious. As for speech detection, the service had some trouble when he spoke Chinese in his normal tone, but when he enunciated a bit more than usual the results were almost perfect.
For now, the service is limited to translations between English and Chinese Mandarin, but the companies plan to release new languages in the near future. You can get more information about the service along with more local access numbers here.