2012: Best and Worst Advances in the Language Services Industry

December 17, 2012 by admin

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As 2012 draws to a close, we take a look at the best and worst advances in the Language Services Industry this year, from technological inventions to government contracts, here is what 2012 looked like…


The best advance in the language service industry this year was without a doubt the invention of a mobile application which is designed to translate sign language into English. The Portable Sign Language Translator, designed by the University of Aberdeen spin-off Technabling, runs on smartphones, laptops and tablets. Funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the app will help more school leavers with impaired hearing to get their first step on the job ladder, and the hearing impaired population in general to have better opportunities in the workplace.


The app works by using the device’s inbuilt camera to record sign language and then translates the motions into text. Although it works with British Sign Language and Makaton, it also allows users to personalise their signing, widening their opportunities for expression. This means that if users find difficulties expressing concepts and terms using BSL, they can develop their own signs for them. Technabling is currently carrying out trials to improve its accuracy, and hopes to have the app publicly available next summer.


The worst development in the language services industry in 2012 might regretfully have to be the performance of Applied Language Solutions, the company that provides taxpayer-funded interpreters to courts under a controversial £90 million Government scheme. Figures show that the company failed to provide an interpreter on more than one in ten occasions that the courts called for them.


The former boss of the company, who was widely criticised over the way the company ran the lucrative contract, resorted to blaming interpreters for the failures. Gavin Wheeldon claimed that interpreters who were resistant to the new working conditions intimidated colleagues into turning work down. Many interpreters, unhappy with the pay cuts that came with the new system, have been refusing to work, considering that it is no longer worth their while to do such a responsible job for such low pay, choosing instead to earn a living from translation or teaching work. In the first quarter of this year the company faced 2,232 complaints.


The company has also been criticised on extrapolated information to win the contract. There have been many stories of courtroom chaos with proceedings being held up or collapsing due to interpreters failing to turn up on time or not having the necessary competence, due to the company not adequately screening them.


To sum up


2012 was the year the government realised the importance of investing in BSL translation technology. The future of integrating hearing impaired people into the work force is now a lot brighter. We can only hope that in 2013 the government will also realise the importance of investing more money in public service interpreting provision.

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