Inspired by a harrowing episode when Mr. Frankel could not communicate the symptoms of a virulent stomach bug to a pharmacist in Beijing, the service takes just 15 seconds to put mobile users in touch with a human translator fluent in both English and any of 11 other languages. In other words, it combines the speed of Google Translate with the precision of a traditional translation service — at least that was the pitch Mr. Frankel and Mr. Sarda made to the sharks.Within 72 hours of the segment being shown, 20,000 new customers had downloaded the VerbalizeIt app, according to Mr. Frankel. Daily revenue, he said, more than tripled. The company charges about $1.50 a minute from individual consumers and as much as 27 cents a word from businesses that use the same network of 10,100 freelance translators to translate documents and videos.
A little background: Machine translation–the use of computers to translate from one language to another–was one of the founding problem areas of computer science in the 1950s. The Defense Department of the US Federal Government funded a number of programs that set out to translate Russian texts into English. "Pure" machine translation, with no human help, didn't work too well. Human-aided translation, where a human translator cleaned-up the computer's work, was better.
But VerbalizIt is, obviously, rather different. They use the web to quickly find a human translator to do the whole job.