Language learning existed long before the first cave painting or hieroglyphic. The pain and anguish of language learning dates back nearly as far — a truth that most any Latin, Spanish, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Italian or FORTRAN student can testify to.
Transparent Language can relate. It can also illuminate.
“When I attended Andover, I had a native German language teacher who thought German was intuitive and couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t speaking fluently,” says Transparent Language founder and president Michael Quinlan. “It got to a point where I couldn’t look at the old Herman script without getting nauseous. Language shouldn’t have all this anxiety. It should be something that’s a joy, but for many people it’s not — it’s a horror.”
Determined to spare others the humiliation and agony that he suffered, Quinlan first devised the strategic model behind Transparent Language while teaching his son Evan to read. The two of them — with the help of dinosaur picture books and Nintendo manuals — developed a method of language learning called “beeping” that allowed Evan to “beep” everytime he encountered an unfamiliar word while reading aloud with his dad. Quinlan would supply the corrent word until his son could remember and retain it. By age six, Evan was reading at a fifth-grade level.
More than a decade later, “beeping” is driving a series of award-winning education software called LanguageNow! Transparent Language’s flagship product, LanguageNow! has grown from a simple, anxiety-free learning tool featuring games and proficiency tests to an education component currently used by 400,000 registered users and 10,000 schools including Princeton and Baylor.
Meanwhile, the advent of Internet technology has raised the bar and the expectations of business people hungry for a piece of the international market. In order to accomodate that burgeoning clientele, Transparent Language introduced earlier this year a product called 51 Languages of the World, which facilitates a crash course in Arabic, Azerbaijani, Estonian, Latvian, Vietnamese, Zulu and 45 additional dialects. Designed for speed and optimal accuracy, this world languages software represents a new trend in language learning: fast and interactive.
Users of 51 Languages of the World not only learn verb conjugations and new vocabulary, they speak to their computers and compare their own words, pronunciation and accent to that of their electronic tutor. They also virtually travel to various destinations around the globe where native speakers teach them new diction and catch phrases.
“Within a matter of years, no one will learn French by going to a classroom for four days a week for five years,” Quinlan says. “It’s absurd. And it’s crazy to stand up in a classroom and try to teach 20 kids of totally different levels of ability.”
In keeping with the fast, faster, fastest model of business, Transparent Language has taken its working model one step further with an instant translation product intended for home office and small business users. Desktop Translator works at the speed of necessity, translating text, e-mail, Web pages and even the human voice — with the aid of Dragon Systems’ speech recognition technology. Such a product, replete with electronic idiosyncrasies and language bloopers, will never replace the human translator, but it will get an informal e-mail message to that client in Madrid by the close of business today.
“A machine translator is never going to translate a letter from the president for an annual report,” Quinlan says. “A machine would be tempted to exchange the terms for a bowling strike and a labor stike. A human wouldn’t make that mistake.”
Despite its glitches, the instant translation technology has caught the eye of clients including McDonald’s and United Airlines, who also utilize the Transparent Language’s training and skill development offerings. In fact, it has proven so popular that Transparent Language recently opted to begin giving it away for free. Last month, the New Hampshire-based company launched FreeTranslation.com — an online hub for cost-free translation services. FreeTranslation.com doesn’t promise UN-approved interpretations, but simply a rapid “gist,” or rough translation of any text, e-mail or Web page. It’s not perfect, but it does flaunt the one magic word that seems to govern business in the new economy: fast.