Microsoft unveils Skype Translator to break down language barriers
By Nick Lavars
May 29, 2014
Not content with enabling free, cross-continental video conversations, Microsoft has now moved to break down language barriers and make conversing with our international friends even more convenient. The company has unveiled Skype Translator, an application for its chat software that translates speech between different languages in (almost) real time.
Microsoft demonstrated the technology at the Code Conference in Palos Verdes, California on Tuesday night. Invited on stage by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Skype vice president Gurdeep Pall held a video call with a German-speaking Microsoft employee Diana Heinrichs.
Pall started by greeting Heinrichs in English, his speech recognized by the software and repeated in German accompanied by subtitles underneath. Heinrichs then responds in German, with the software repeating her words and providing subtitles in English. The pair talked for several minutes and covered more obscure topics like Indian food and London's geography, the software translating the speech largely without a hitch.
There was one minor mishap close to the end, with Heinrich telling Pall, "I have many meetings with my colleagues in Redmond and I take the opportunity to see her fiancé my." Such errors in syntax will be familiar to anybody who has used Google Translate and indicate that Skype Translator has some way to go before it displaces language teachers around the world.
According to Microsoft, the technology has been some time in the making, its researchers working to overcome the nuances of different dialects and inconsistencies in speech over a number of years.
"It’s not just repeating a single word," says head of Microsoft's Machine Translation Team, Arul Menezes. "Sometimes, you’ll go three words into a sentence and then back up and restate it. In some languages, it’s more of a challenge than others, especially languages like Spanish, where words have to agree in grammatical gender."
Though not perfect, Microsoft feels it has made sufficient progress to offer a beta version of Skype Translator to Windows 8 users later this year. While some have broken minor ground in this area before, with 300 million people logging into Skype each month Microsoft is set to find out pretty quickly whether its translator can speak to its users scattered all around the globe. You can see a demonstration of the translator in video below.