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University of Surrey’s ‘SMART’ study awarded £426k to make multilingual content accessible to all

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The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, has awarded £426,000 to the University of Surrey to undertake a ground-breaking investigation into multilingual and interlingual live subtitling via respeaking.

Today’s modern world is characterised by live multimedia and multilingual content, such as breaking news and TV programmes and different types of live events like conferences, parliamentary debates, and interviews. Such content is not accessible to everyone and the language service industry has struggled to keep up with the current multilingual content boom.

Respeaking has so far been used to produce intralingual subtitles, i.e. in the same language, and is the most well-established method today to subtitle live TV programmes in the UK. The University of Surrey’s ‘Shaping Multilingual Access through Respeaking Technology’ (SMART) project aims to investigate how this technique can be adjusted to produce interlingual subtitles, i.e. in a different language, and how this could impact society.

Interlingual Respeaking (IRSP) is a complex and hybrid practice combining speech recognition technology, human interpreting and subtitling skills that has the potential to allow access to live multimedia and multilingual content for a wider audience, thus bridging the gap between hearing and non-hearing people and native and non-native speakers. The range of applications is extremely wide-reaching, including every-day interactions such as university lectures, court cases, live conferences, festivals, and museums tours.

The project is led by Dr Elena Davitti, Senior Lecturer at The University of Surrey’s Centre for Translation Studies (CTS), a centre of excellence dedicated to cutting-edge research, scholarship and teaching in translation and interpreting. SMART brings together an international consortium of academic and industrial partners.

Academics include Dr Simon Evans, Lecturer in Neuroscience at Surrey’s School of Psychology, Professor Lucile Desblache from the University of Roehampton, Dr Pablo Romero-Fresco, University of Vigo and University of Roehampton, and Annalisa Sandrelli, University of International Studies of Rome-UNINT. Industrial partners include Ai-MediaSky and Sub-ti Ltd.

Tony Abrahams, Co-Founder and CEO of Ai-Media, says: “As a global provider of quality live multilingual captioning, transcription and translation, Ai-Media is delighted to support this groundbreaking project.”

Federico Spoletti, Managing Director of Sub-Ti Ltd, adds: “Sub-Ti is very excited to be involved in the University of Surrey’s SMART project. Live subtitles should be accessible to all audiences, beyond sensory or language barriers, and this project will certainly help interlingual communication progress in the future.”

The project will design bespoke training courses to equip language professionals with optimal interlingual respeaking skills and will develop a Best Practice Guide which will provide guidelines to educate service providers on how to make live events and broadcasts accessible.

Dr Davitti says: “SMART’s vision is to contribute barrier-free access to information, entertainment and culture by investigating IRSP, a technique that can broaden the concept of accessibility, empowering different user groups, ultimately enabling a more inclusive and integrated society.”

SMART builds on the success of the recently expanded CTS, following the 2019 Expanding Excellence in England (E3) award from Research England. CTS now has a new interdisciplinary team set to pursue CTS’ vision of promoting a human-centric approach to technology use in translation, interpreting and related forms of communication by bringing together traditional human-based research practices with cutting-edge advances in artificial intelligence.

Find out more about the exciting work going on at CTS

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