BYU professor develops translation app for olympics


As the host city of the 2012 Olympics, London will be the temporary home of people from 216 countries.With such diversity, communication between ambassadors, athletes and spectators can be a logistical and linguistic nightmare. BYU professor Giovanni Tata isn’t too concerned. Thanks to Tata and his crew of programmers, there’s an app for that — The Olympic Translator is due to launch in May.

Tata, director of creative works at BYU, said the idea behind the app is to streamline communication by making sure people can understand one another.

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The Olympic Translator, an app created by Professor Giovanni Tata, aims to help participants at the summer olympics communicate with more ease.
“The idea is that if you communicate with somebody and give them commands you want to make sure that you’re conveying the right message, because otherwise you could create a lot of confusion if you give the wrong directions or the wrong commands,” Tata said. “That’s what our purpose was, to provide a tool that people could have some confidence in using.”

Tata, who had previously helped to create the language training software used in the 2002 Olympics, said development of the new translator app began nearly three years ago when he was contacted by a committee formed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to assist with preparations for the Olympic games in London. Tata agreed to make the app available to the Olympics and set to work.

“So basically what we decided to do is to start collecting a lot of phrases that could be used during the Olympics in a variety of situations,” Tata said. “Like in emergency services, like for the police, but especially for the volunteers who are going to  give directions to the tourists and athletes alike.”

With the help of many volunteers Tata and the translation team have collected close to 6,000 phrases that will be pre-programmed into the app. Tata said the task of creating an app that can bridge so many language barriers is extremely taxing, but luckily he and his crew didn’t have to start from scratch.

“This Olympic Translator will work in conjunction with Google [Translate],” Tata said. “Though it will have all these thousands of phrases, we can’t think of all the phrases that could possibly be used.”

Isaac Davis, a junior studying computer science at BYU, works as a programmer for the project developing the interface for the Android platform. Isaac’s brother Brian, who is also studying computer science, is developing the iOS interface for Apple products. One of the things the Davis brothers are most excited for is how the app automatically updates translations added by users.

“If you say a phrase it’ll come up and if we don’t have it in our database it’ll show a Google phrase,” Isaac said. “The user can then hit ‘yes this is correct’ or the user can hit ‘edit’ and then when they hit submit it sends it to our database.”

According to Isaac and Brian this app is like a Wikipedia for translations. The more translations that users add, the more comprehensive the app will become.

“This is a user-driven app and it’s very much dependent on how the users use it,” Brian said. “If it’s used right it will be better for everybody.”


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