With speech recognition, synthesis and translation beginning to work well enough for small tasks, this paper describes a short project to build a portable speech-to-speech translation system in a new language. We describe its basic components, the methods we used to build them and related significant observations. The end system was tested with real users on a trip to Croatia in the spring of 2001.
This work was done in conjunction with the US Army Chaplain School. Army chaplains are often among the advance party of troop deployment. In many cases, the chaplains are the only personnel in a position to communicate with local people over non-military issues such as medical supplies, refugees, etc. Often the chaplain has no knowledge of the local language, and due to immediacy requirements, no human translator is available. Thus the chaplain must communicate as best possible, perhaps without even a bilingual dictionary.
Given this domain, our task was to build a speech-to-speech translation system that could run on a small portable computer that will aid conversations between a chaplain and a native. Such a task requires
The entire project, from start to finish, was allowed to take only one calendar year, including initial contractual arrangements, hiring language experts, etc. All of these systems had to run on a single small sub-notebook computer, in a reasonable time; this added further interesting constraints on the project.
For topical reasons, Croatian was chosen as the target language. Although spoken by around 5 million people, it does not command enough economic weight that the commercial speech and language community has produced recognizers, synthesizers and translation engines for it. Thus it is a realistic language type to use as an example. From a testing standpoint, although Croatia is still of interest to the US military, there are no current hostilities there, thus enabling a realistic field-test under safe conditions.