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Speech technology is advancing quickly; even smartphones offer apps that let you speak commands and perform voice-activated searches. Now, a new app for iPhone and Blackberry can convert spoken Arabic into spoken English (and vice versa).

The mobile app’s speed of processing and accuracy is unprecedented for such a complex and different pair of languages.

Created by Sakhr and Dial Directions for use by the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and other military customers — not you — the app has implications for field personnel who need to understand foreign speech in dire situations. The app also provides a text translation.

“I’ve seen Sakhr’s speech-to-speech mobile translator on the iPhone in action, and it could be a game-changer,” said Hythem El-Nazer, the senior vice president of Boston-based TA Associates, speaking to Business Wire. “”Instant, open speech translation on a mobile phone hasn’t been done before now, because it’s simply really hard to do.”

Web tools such as Google Translate can convert written Arabic to English, and speech companies such as Tell Me and Nuance convert speech to text, but this mobile app is the first to convert Arabic on a mobile phone.

[via Gizmodo]