Computer scientists want to translate the internet into sign language

Computer scientists have developed a new way for the internet to transmit information to deaf people.

Because speech is such an important part of language acquisition and ‘hearing’ words in our heads helps us learn to read and write, deaf people often struggle with written English. If, as many do, they learn to speak using sign language, their first language follows very different grammatical rules which can be a barrier to discovering all the joys of the internet (except cute animal videos, thank goodness).

Some websites do have video translations of their text, but they’re in the minority. Now, a team from Germany is working with deaf people using motion capture technology to make avatars that can sign different messages. They say that this could be used on websites or in public places, like train stations – for example, to make deaf travellers aware of platform changes.

Eventually, they hope that deaf people will be able to use these avatars to communicate with each other online. The only complication is that each country signs differently, so the technique will need to be available in a range of sign languages. Fabrizio Nunnari, a member of the research team, says, ‘Our method should be inexpensive and easy to use so that every member of the deaf community will be able to use it.’

Image via Matt Biddulph’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley