Just imagine it! You jump on a Skype call with a distributor or customer in Bangkok, Shanghai or Madrid. You can’t speak their language. They can’t speak yours. Yet, in minutes, Skype is translating their speech into words you can understand and vice versa.
This is the promise of Skype Translator which Microsoft (Skype’s parent company) has promised to have available by the end of 2014.
In a recent post on The Official Microsoft Blog, Gurdeep Pall, Corporate Vice President of Skype and Lync explained:
“Today, we have more than 300 million connected users each month, and more than 2 billion minutes of conversation a day as Skype breaks down communications barriers by delivering voice and video across a number of devices, from PCs and tablets, to smartphones and TVs. But language barriers have been a blocker to productivity and human connection; Skype Translator helps us overcome this barrier.”
Here’s a peak at Skype Translator in action from Microsoft Research:
At the recent Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella unveiled the new feature with Pall demonstrating (pictured above, top of page).
In the demo, Pall and a German colleague talk about Pall’s impending move from Seattle to London.
Pall speaks in English and his colleague speaks in German. After a moments hesitation, Skype translates each of the speakers’ comments into the others language and repeats it back to the listener allowing them to respond.
For small businesses, in particular, the implications seem huge. Tools like Google’s “Translate” have been around a while to internationalize your website’s content.
But Skype Translator, if delivering as promised, could have you collaborating with companies all around the globe either doing business with them as service providers or serving them as clients. And all this could be done despite lack of a common language.
Look for Skype Translator as a Widows 8 beta app before the end of the year.
Oooh, I like that. Interesting. Useful.
Curious about the range of languages it covers and how accurate some of them will prove to be. For example, I speak Igbo. Wondering if that will be covered and how well it’ll be able to translate to English and vice versa.
Can’t speak to specific languages since the tool isn’t even available yet. I’m going to guess, based on Nadella’s explanation, that languages not currently included will be added or “learned” by the system over time. Of course, that’s just a guess. Also, I think it’s easy to tell from the presentation Microsoft posted that there are certain limits to Translator’s abilities. While I don’t necessarily think the exchange we saw misrepresented it’s function in any way, I’m sure certain phraseology on the user’s part will make it easier for the translator to do its work. For example, perhaps limiting the number of long compound sentences used and so forth. I’m also certain the features will continue to improve over time.
I must say, it sounds pretty impressive regardless of the amount of languages that’ll be included.
I agree, phraseology/clarity will make a difference to how (easily) it interprets what’s being said.
Looking forward to its release, so I can test it out for myself.
It might be a idea for Microsoft to have a way of feeding back alongside the Skype convo taking place. If I’m Skyping with the translator, I wouldn’t mind sending corrections as I’m having the convo – or marking certain words while the convo’s in session, then feeding them back to Microsoft soon after the convo’s done, along with corrections.
As a German native speaker, what I can tell you is that in the demo video the German guy speaks a very distinctive, somewhat unnatural German. Especially, thinking of dialects as the Austrian German or Swiss German, translating fluently will certainly be much more difficult or impossible. It will be limited (for a long time) to day to day business language IMHO.
Will the Skype translator app be integrated in the Skype software? Would you say that this in attempt to applying tools like Dragon NaturalSpeak speech recognition to a communication tool?
I’m not certain whether Skype intends to eventually integrate Translator or keep it as an app, although, if I had to guess, I would bet it will probably be integrated directly into the next Skype version. I don’t know to what degree Microsoft’s approach is related to other speech recognition technology, however, based on the years the company claims to have spent in its research division on machine translation, I’m going to guess they have developed a totally unique approach to the problem and that Skype Translator is only the tip of the iceberg or one example of the results we will eventually see from this research.
Wow! This is definitely going to be useful to freelancers, especially those who have had to deal with language barriers. Bring it on MS!