Hands-on with Skype Translator: Comical at times, but this could change the world

 Skype Translator video chat

Yesterday we reported that Skype Translator Preview is now available in the Microsoft store without requiring signing up. The idea that people can communicate between multiple languages in real time is amazing and has been portrayed in science fiction for years. I took the chance to Skype with my friend Cesar who is fluent in English, Italian, and Spanish to see how good Skype Translator Preview is right now.

An important disclaimer is that this is a preview software and it won’t be finished for a long time. That being said Skype Translator Preview does an impressive job at translating spoken words and does an even better job at translating typed words. It is more than rough around the edges but it easily makes Cesar’s Italian, which I understand 0% of, into understandable paragraphs that give me the gist of what he’s saying.

If Skype messaging is integrated with text messaging in Windows 10 as many hope then I would like to see Skype translation included as well. It would be great to text message your friends and have it translate things instantly. It still isn’t perfect but it’s very solid, especially in comparison to the new voice translation.

Skype Translator Preview text

When you speak it translates what you’re saying in text boxes on the right-hand side of the screen. You can see it translating based on context when Cesar starts a sentence with ‘por qué’  and it changes it from ‘why’ to ‘because’ due to the context of his sentence.

The translation is far from perfect but at this early stage that’s to be expected. Cesar and I had some funny run-ins where Skype thought someone had an issue with a Spaniard and another talking about him dating people over the summer. Where the preview is now, it’s more fun to just laugh at the mistakes it needs to make to learn and marvel at the fact that this technology works at all.

There’s a long disclaimer at the beginning of any call made through Skype Translator Preview because it records your preview conversations at the moment to improve future translations.

Skype Translator Preview is looking for you to speak the language you enter in so things like names and proper nouns still confuse it. Also, if you speak Spanglish or rapidly switch between languages, this isn’t for you right now because it will try to translate your words as if they were whatever language you have selected.

Switching between languages is fairly easy. There’s a switch that you click and drag to turn translation on or off before you make a Skype call and you can easily change the settings to customize who is speaking and writing in each language.

Overall this is an amazing technology. If this technology continues to be refined and is integrated with other technologies it will revolutionize communication. Imagine having a HoloLens that automatically translates people’s speech when you’re with them face to face.

Cesar and I joked about the mistakes it made but also both pointed out that this is a great technology that’s just starting off. There are many uses for this in the future. We may be a few more years off from the Babel Fish but Skype Translator Preview is making leaps and bounds towards it.

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