A few years there is, i spent a day at the Yamazaki distillery in Suntory outside of Kyoto, Japan. There’s a bar at the end of the tour, and (pro tip) it’s one of the only places in the world where you can get Suntory’s whiskeys at cost. When I bought my first glass of whiskey, two Japanese men who had taken the Shinkansen from Tokyo motioned for me to come to their table. Through the pantomime, one of them gave me a taste of the whiskey in his glass, and we ended up spending hours tasting spirits and talking about Japanese whiskey thanks to the magic of Google Translate on our phones. It was a hesitant and awkward way of having a conversation, but it was glorious, and it’s still one of the best experiences of my life.
But what if we could actually have a vocal conversation? You know, the old fashioned way? This is the promise of Ambassador Interpreter, a $ 179 device that finally aims to bring the legendary Babel fish as close to life as ever.
The performer comes in the form of a pair of on-ear headphones, one for your right ear and one for your friend’s. You download the Ambassador mobile app, where all the translation work is done, and pair the two headphones with your phone via Bluetooth.
Ambassador has three modes of operation. Converse mode is a two-way system: you both choose one of the 20 languages and 42 dialects available, and the app translates your language to his and hers to yours. (Up to four people can talk this way through the app at a time, if you have enough headphones.) Conference mode is a one-way system that translates your speech and plays it through your smartphone speaker in another language. The listening mode goes the other way around, listening to the language of your choice, translating it into your own language, and channeling it into your headset.
The good news is that Converse and Lecture are performing surprisingly well. While the Ambassador app can be a bit tricky to use, especially since you have to manually reconnect to the headphones every time you turn them off, it’s intuitive enough to get things done without holding your hand too much. This is not an app to use if you are in a rush as you have to manually select which languages to listen to and translate which may take a bit of time. (You can also configure whether you want to listen to male or female voice translation.)
Once that’s all sorted out – and, presumably, once you’ve convinced the other party in Converse mode that you’re not a fool to want them to put on just one earbud – you can start a conversation. This can be a bit hesitant, as the Ambassador is not always enabled by default. You have to tap the side of the device to tell it to translate, which makes using both of them a bit of a walkie-talkie operation. In other modes, pressing the button once will keep it lit until you press it again. Volume buttons are also available on the side of each earbud.
We are talking
As you can imagine the translations are far from perfect, but if you speak clearly and slowly enough the system works great. He struggles with some proper nouns, but he can handle slang and informal speech (like “I’m going to have them”) quite easily. The app also keeps a log of everything in the text, so if it misunderstands something you’ve said you’ll have the option to correct things. Note that in a two-way conversation you have to be close and personal enough to make things work, which can be a bit difficult in our pandemic situation, but I have found Ambassador to work very well under masks.
I had high hopes that with Listening Mode I would be able to watch foreign language movies in their native language, but it didn’t work. Although I was able to get a reasonable translation of things like News in slow spanish, the talk about programming and mainstream films was still far too quick for the Ambassador to follow. Most of the time, the system just didn’t pick up any dialogue, or if it did, it was just a random word here or there. And if there is background music or special effects to deal with, forget about it. (I also had to turn up the volume on my TV and sit a few feet away from it for even slow, uncluttered speech to work.)
I’m not in love with the material either. The egg-shaped device is difficult to hold and I found it constantly slipping out of my hand when trying to put it on. Once above your ear, it kind of wiggles loose, and it didn’t feel secure enough to be used on the move. The headphones charge via a Micro-USB cable, and although six hours of battery life is promised, on several occasions I returned to the Ambassadors to find that they had both been drained to zero even when they weren’t. had not been used. for a certain time. Some work on battery management seems to be in order.
Ultimately, the concept wins; if some of the practical issues can be solved, it will be a great product. For now, if all parties are willing to take their time, this is arguably the most effective method of overcoming the language barrier, unless you have a human translator on hand to do the job. And to that I say Bell!