By Scott Kirsner, Globe Columnist
Growing up in a Connecticut household that mostly spoke Polish, Olenka Polak and her brother Adam had first-hand experience in how language can be a barrier to participating in the culture. And that led the siblings, years later, to start a company that would help make a key part of American culture — the movies — more welcoming to those who don’t speak English.
The Polaks are co-founders of myLINGO, a still-stealthy startup based at Harvard’s Innovation Lab. myLINGO is developing a mobile app that would make it easy to rent, for 99 cents, a movie’s audio track in a wide variety of languages. And it’d be useful not just for theatrical releases, but also for on-demand or DVD viewing at home. “You can imagine a scenario where the kids are fine watching a cartoon in English, but Abuela and Abuelo would want to listen to the audio in Spanish,” says Olenka Polak, right, who just wrapped up her sophomore year at Harvard. (Her brother is a 2012 graduate of Johns Hopkins.)
For a demo, Polak started playing the Spanish version of “Toy Story 2” on her laptop. The prototype app on her iPhone listened to the soundtrack for 20 seconds or so to figure out what part of the movie was playing, and when I put the earbuds in, I could hear Buzz Lightyear speaking in English, perfectly synchronized. The app checks in every few minutes with the soundtrack on the film or DVD, just to make sure it is still in the right spot. (Audio processing expert Dan Ellis of Columbia University is an advisor to myLINGO.)
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