In science fiction stories, when our adventurers make contact with aliens, they need to communicate. They can’t wait weeks or months in order to learn each others languages. They need something radical. Different writers have come up with some novel solutions to this conundrum. In TV series 'Farscape', our hero John Crichton is injected with some sort of translator microbes which colonize his brain and translate anything spoken to him. In the 'Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy', it is the 'babel fish' which is inserted into the ear and translates the spoken word. In the 'Star Trek' universe, it is the universal Translator, which is used for instant translation between languages.
The translator microbes or babel fish may seem far-fetched at this point in time but the universal translator like devices are well within our reach. Google Translate, Microsoft Translator and several other are providing basic machine translation between worlds major languages at present. Google translate is particularly good at providing real-time translation of street signs. The actual face to face translations are still tricky and much is lost in translation due to the nuances of the languages like slang and cultural meanings but it can fulfill the elementary purposes.
However, a true universal translator should be able to give instantaneous, real-time translation between almost all world languages, in speaker's own voice. I think that can be achieved within the next ten years. The removal of language barriers all around the world could transform our planet. Our world would become flat at yet another dimension. It would preserve languages that are facing extinction. Cultures are seamlessly tied to the languages so it might help to preserve the rich diversity of earth cultures too.
I am eagerly waiting to own such a device.