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Smartphone App Helps US Troops Cross The Language Barrier in Afghanistan

Thu 13 Jan, 2011 // Firstnumber Team
war

As Google announce the revamp of their version of Google Translate for Android, it has emerged that US soldiers in Afghanistan have turned to a smartphone app in the quest to improve relations with Afghani villagers.

The 'Transtac' – short for Translation system for tactical use – will be tested over a 6 month period by the troops, with the hope that the technology will compensate for the noticeable lack of qualified interpretors within the US military, who have been forced to pay substantial salaries to potential translators reluctant to risk their lives on the front-line.

The new translation tool is being tested out by the 101st Airborne Division posted in the Paktita province of eastern Afghanistan. The soldiers are to use the device in order to improve relations with Pashtun villagers.

Developed by Scientists of the US defence department, the technology has the capacity to translate from English to Dari and Pashto – the two main languages spoken in Afghanistan – and vice versa. In comparison, the latest Android Translation tool is only able to translate between English and Spanish using the 'Conversation Mode' in which your speech is recorded and translated automatically.

However, the Android version is able to translate between 53 languages outwith the Conversation Mode, with a further 15 languages hoping to be supported within the Conversation Mode system shortly.

For American troops, the introduction of the Transtac device will come as a welcome relief following 10 years of reliance on a sparse number of interpretors and the previous attempts at a similar solution with the introduction of the vastly limited Phrasealator. The performance of the latter was woefully inadequate, covering only a basic list of commands relating to crowd control and other emergency situations. Furthermore, there was no option for the translation of Dari, Pashto, or Arabic into English.

So, while we get excited by the latest developments to the Android system, and test out the new functions with our friends, US troops of the 101st Airborne Division will be using their new smartphone translator application in the hope of improving a currently beleaguered counter-insurgency strategy.

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