Connecting Communities Across Languages

Technology can break down barriers in many different ways and I’ve blogged previously about accessibility in Office365 as well as the amazing Seeing AI App that helps the blind to “see.” When it was first announced, Microsoft Translator was a Garage project, meaning it was something of a passion project for Microsoft developers and was not as yet, not a mainstream product.

This has changed with a big push on how Microsoft Translator can help break down language barriers and create closer connections between school communities, be that the Teacher/Student relationship or the Principal/Parent meeting scenario. In this blog post from earlier today, Chinook Middle School shared how they’re using the Microsoft Translator tool to connect with their linguistically diverse parent community:

microsoft-translator-edu-5This type of technology is tremendously exciting because, in my mind, it allows students who might otherwise miss key ideas or concepts to have a greater chance of learning because they are either hearing or seeing content in their own native language, or are seeing transcribed subtitles of what the speaker is presenting.

I’ve used Microsoft Translator in a number of presentations to simply add English subtitles to assist those with hearing difficulties or English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to see in typed text what it is that I am saying (since I have a tendency to speak quite fast at times. The accuracy of transcription is remarkably high, considering it is in real time and having to deal with the vagaries of the New Zealand accent!

There is now a dedicated page for Microsoft Translator with an Education focus and I encourage you to check out the resources included on it:

Microsoft Translator For Education

One of the really great features of Translator is that it can be trained to learn technical words as well. By including these in the notes section of a PowerPoint slide deck, Translator will more effectively interpret these words when they are being spoken by the presenter.

To learn how to get started with Microsoft Translator check out this video:

My Point of View:

Teaching is changing in often quite major ways, from an increasingly ethnic/linguistically diverse student audience through to building redesigns with an emphasis on larger open and flexible spaces. Both of these two scenarios would benefit from the presenter or teacher using Microsoft Translator because the use of translation and even English subtitles will enable the audience to follow along even if they can not hear the presenter clearly, they can see the subtitles on the presentation.

I wrote in my last blog post that literacy strategies designed to support dyslexic students are equally effective with the majority of students and having subtitles will assist all students as well – not just those that are hard of hearing.

Most schools in New Zealand have an International Department where students are being supported in developing their English skills and having the ability to do real time translation could be simply another tool that can be exercised to assist these students in being understood. Similarly, I’ve run many Mystery Skype sessions but have been limited to other English speaking schools. Imagine the levels of excitement amongst students if they were able to talk with students from other languages and be easily understood. This would definitely expand the list of time zones and schools that could connect with each other.

As technology plays an increasingly disruptive role in society, I love it when tools like this emerge that harness the massive power of Machine Learning and channel it into an incredibly positive product like Translator that will connect more people than ever before.

Lastly, for those more technically inclined readers, have a look at the technology behind the scenes to get this running:

I am always keen to discuss what I've written and hear your ideas so leave a reply here...

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