Talking My Language - Learning And Translating Languages At The Same Time

"How can you get 100 million people on the web translating everything into different languages for free?" That's the question asked by a team - led by Professor Luis von Ahn - from the Computer Science department at Carnegie Mellon University.

von Ahn's previous work ranges from the development of The CAPTCHA Project to computer learning games (Games With A Purpose) to the Google Image Labeler (which helps make your Google Image Search results come back with what you actually asked for), so he's no stranger to designing things that actually work.

Now we know a bit about von Ahn, let's get back to his team's question. Or, more specifically, their answer. Which is ... drum roll ... "Transform language translation into something that millions of people WANT to do." Brilliant, really.

But how?

Why, make it useful, of course! The team estimates that at least a billion people around the world are trying to learn a foreign language, so they aim to tap into that energy, and give these people the opportunity to learn a language for free - by giving them things to translate through the language learning / translation service they're calling Duolingo.

And there is no shortage of things to translate. Millions of items are being translated online every day, and unless you get a professional translation, you usually find yourself attempting to translate the translation.

What a wonderful way to harness the web's interactive potential: fulfill a need by fulfilling a need.

But - you say - how good is a translation going to be from a learner? Therein lies the trick. Using the right kind of algorithms, von Ahn's team have found that "the combined translations that we get in return are as accurate as those from professional language translators.”

So, if this idea excites you and you want to learn another language and you want to help improve online translations services, why not volunteer to help them with their private beta testing, which should commence in just the next few weeks?

Who is this Luis von Ahn? Why not let science popularizer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, show you: