John Kelley sends me some recommendations for enhancing my French curriculum. John says I should add some science, math, and technology objectives (we do use Google Docs!), French history (we do read some articles), and discussion of world economic turmoil as it relates to the French experience with fiat money (that's going to take some effort!).
In a few years, those enhancements might be all I'm teaching, if my job even exists. While Bill Gates advocates bad education policy, Microsoft is developing technology that will put French teachers and maybe all high school foreign language teachers out of work.
This video shows Microsoft chief research officer Rick Rashid discussing Microsoft's live translation technology. Throughout the video, Microsoft's language recognition software produces a reasonably accurate transcript of Rashid's speech. Past the 6:00 mark, they switch on the text translator to produce a running Mandarin Chinese script. And around 7:30, they switch on the newest tool: live audio translation of Rashid's words in to Mandarin Chinese, modulated to sound like his own voice.
Rashid explains the state of the art:
During my October 25 presentation in China, I had the opportunity to showcase the latest results of this work. We have been able to reduce the word error rate for speech by over 30% compared to previous methods. This means that rather than having one word in 4 or 5 incorrect, now the error rate is one word in 7 or 8. While still far from perfect, this is the most dramatic change in accuracy since the introduction of hidden Markov modeling in 1979, and as we add more data to the training we believe that we will get even better results [Rick Rashid, "Microsoft Research shows a promising new breakthrough in speech translation technology," Next at Microsoft, 2012.11.08].
We are ten years from the Star Trek universal translator. (Microsoft must have found Henry Starling's back-up disks.) Microsoft has put me ten years from seeking other work... or at least radically transforming how and what I teach in a foreign language classroom.
But remember: someone still needs to train the programmers... and foreign language training makes brains grow (among other benefits)! Now, class, turn to page 52 on the collapse of Louis XVI's fiscal policy....