One of the best things about science fiction movies is exploring places no one has been to before and encountering new life forms. The trouble is that not many of them speak Human languages. In order to make the movies watchable the filmmakers had to find a way that allowed communications between the humans and the aliens they encountered.

The solution they came up with was the ‘universal translator’, something that can translate any alien language instantaneously.

1: Doctor Who - Translation circuit

Using a telepathic field, the TARDIS can automatically translate most languages (written and spoken) into a language understood by its pilot and each of the crew members. The field also translates what they say into a language appropriate for that time and location (e.g., speaking the appropriate dialect of Latin when in ancient Rome). This system has frequently been featured as a main part of the show.



2: Farscape - Translator Microbes

On the TV show Farscape John Crichton is injected with bacteria called ‘translator microbes’ which act as a sort of Universal Translator. The microbes colonize the host's brain stem and translate anything spoken to him/her/it, passing along the translated information to the host's brain. The microbes do not enable the injected person to speak other languages; they continue to speak their own language and are only understood by others as long as the listeners possess the microbes.


3: Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy - Babel Fish

The guide describes the Babel fish as follows:

"The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier, but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish."Babel Fish


4: Star Trek - universal translator

The universal translator can be found in many science fiction films and TV series. It was first described in Murray Leinster's 1945 novella "First Contact". Most of the time the universal translator is some kind of machine, but not always. Perhaps not surprisingly though they do all have one thing in common. They often gave poor results.

The universal translator often caused problems, especially when dealing with the written languages found on alien control panels, hatches and doors.

In Star Trek, the universal translator was invented shortly before 2151, and was still experimental at the time of the launch of the Enterprise NX-01. Despite being able to translate alien languages in relatively short order, the use of a skilled linguist – in Enterprise's case, Hoshi Sato – was still required. A new language could quickly be translated in person-to-person encounters by having one speak his or her language until the universal translator gathered enough data to build a translation matrix.

Universal Translator


5: Star Wars- C-3PO

Fluent in over six million forms of communication, including his partner R2-D2’s various beeps and whistles, C-3PO is the ultimate in mechanized universal translator.


Real life universal translators

It seems that real life is slowly catching up with the movies. Though we have not found any aliens to talk to yet, technology is slowly starting to break the language barriers on Earth. Here are some of the best:


Skype translator

Skype translator is being compared by the media as the Star Trek type universal translator that has become reality. Currently available in 7 languages for voice calls, and in more than 50 languages for instant messaging skype translator can translate your Skype conversation in near real-time.


Word Lens app

Star Trek's universal translator is here, and it's on your phone, according to an article on Mashable.

Word Lens, which is now a part of the Google Translate service uses the built-in cameras on smartphones and similar devices to quickly scan and identify foreign text and then translate and display the words in another language on the device's display.