Closing the Gap on Language Barriers

Sue Reager, chief technology officer for Language Preservation Technologies—Tywi, discusses ways to make language inclusive to all event attendees.

Closing the Gap on Language Barriers

Sue Reager, chief technology officer for Language Preservation Technologies—Tywi (Translate Your World International), is a technology wizard. She’s created inventions and licenses for 150 telecoms worldwide. Her latest invention for the company is a Professional Conference Subtitler software that allows mass translations for international events. 

You know your product is amazing when someone talks about it on her honeymoon. That’s what happened to Roberta Dexter, CMM, sales executive at Worldwide Tech Connections, when she spoke to Connect about her experience using the subtitler. Even her dog was excited about it, as he chimed in with a few barks.

Dexter lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and discovered Tywi when her client had a complex event and wanted to offer translation sessions to attendees. She knew there was something more efficient than using soundproof booths, renting headsets and flying in interpreters like she’s done for previous events. 

A Google search led her to Reager and Tywi and she set up a demo. The client approved of the demo, and the price was a fraction compared to other technologies.

“They [the client] were able to deliver translations for their session and breakouts,” she says. “It was quite something.”

Origin Story

Reager traveled the world for 20 years as she worked on the business side for major media companies in television, film and advertisement. She called Germany, France, Italy and other countries home. In those 20 years, she mastered 10 languages. 

“I traveled to ZDF in Frankfurt, Germany, and when they had a meeting, they wouldn’t have the meeting in English, they would have the meeting in German!” she said. “It was rough. Really, really rough.”

So she learned German. Then she went to France and learned French. As exciting as it is to travel to different countries and experience new cultures, learning languages, she said, devoured her life. She wasn’t able to be a tourist. In a way, she was back to school, learning and studying grammar from around the world during those two decades.

After learning Korean, she thought, “there has to be a better way.” 

She came back to the states and got involved in the speech technology business. She watched it go from inaudible to useable. But in order to use the technology, you have to go cross platform, she said. Google and Microsoft wouldn’t be sufficient. 

There are several speech translation programs like Deep L for Europe and Sogou for China, but those aren’t accessible worldwide. She took bits and pieces from the best of what was out there and started to design a software. She told her developers to create something so that when attendees are at a conference, there are 20-30 languages available on the screen. 

Her goal with the software was to make conferences completely accessible—both on-site and online.

“People around the world love to speak their own languages at conferences,” she said. “But nonetheless, the conferences we go to have them in English. So I understand but someone in Italy won’t understand it. It’s an enormous suffering in Europe.”

Ease of Access

The Pro Conference Subtitler alleviates the annoyance of not being fluent in a country’s primary language. The subtitler uses a new translation style called Neural Translations, which offers accuracy and naturalness of speech and text. The subtitler creates accurate and professional subtitles for on-site events and online conferences in real time in 78 languages, with more on the way.

So, who translates the captions for the attendees? That’s the role of the captioners—think of them as stenographers. They listen to the event remotely via Zoom, Webex or another web conferencing system, and they create full sentences inside the Tywi software. The software sends the subtitles in various languages to a webpage to display the text instantaneously at the event. 

Since the Pro Conference Subtitler is a secure webpage, attendees get access to the link for the conference, they select their language and then listen to the event at a click of the mouse. The subtitles can be viewed on any device, such as a smartphone, laptop or tablet.  

Besides the language barrier, preparing for a conference using translations can require a lot of logistical setup. But with the subtitler, setup is simple. 

All I need is a couple of cables. I don’t need a translation booth, and I can type on my end with her [captioner] and she can talk to me directly so that if an issue arises I can fix it for her right there while she’s looking at me. Everything is live,” said Dylan Mombourquette, an audio engineer for Freidman Audio Visual, about the subtitler. 

Mombourquette lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and also used the same methods for translations at events as Dexter. Being a self-described nerd, he jumped at the opportunity to try this new technology.

“It’s compact, user friendly and requires minimal gear,” he said. “With Tywi, we’re dealing with the attendees’ phone [or device]. We give them the link, they put in their headphones and that’s it. 

Looking to the Future 

The subtitler is breaking new grounds for translation software. The software comes with the options for dictionaries to be imported. The dictionaries are important since, in English, one word can have several meanings, such as shingles. 

“Some of these things we have artificial intelligence that we pile on top of the automatic translations like dictionaries,” says Reager. “If you see these words, use that word. But we also have AI to push these engines to make better choices for the whole industry. Trying to cover everyone’s back as best as we can.”

Tywi is doing more than helping the industry, it’s also environmentally friendly.

“In the early days, it was about finding an economic solution,” said Dexter. “But the reality of transporting equipment, setting up booths and flying in interpreters makes an impact on the carbon footprint. This software helps us to reimagine the way we deliver meetings.”

Another way the software reimagines the industry is its inclusivity. 

“The software helps with inclusivity with subtitles on the screen for people with low vision or low hearing,” Dexter said. “For groups that have been underserved and not represented at meetings for a long time, we can start to bridge some gaps.” 

Funding Isn’t Easy

Even though Reager is a technical writer for Information Today and has created inventions licensed by Intel and Cisco Systems, she faced obstacles trying to get funding for Tywi. She falls in line with the statistic that female entrepreneurs only receive 2% of venture capital funding. “There are not too many female inventors, and it’s still almost impossible to get funding for a female,” she says. With Worldwide Tech Connections, “I found a man who has an extraordinary vision. And had no prejudice against females,” she says. “He’s pulling in projects from all over the world and they’re big. The last one we just signed was $89 million using our software.”

Eyes of the Future

Besides the subtitler, the company has high-tech glasses it’s working on. The glasses made its debut at CES in 2019 to rave reviews. The glasses have a microphone in them where the screw is. “We had them go to the showroom floor where it’s noisy with a lot of racquet and music and it was 99% accurate,” says Reager. “Everyone was astonished. I fell off my chair!” The glasses were so impressive that the product won second prize at CES. “It was the first time voice translation had been in any technology and we came in second.”