OK – the blog post here is not in Italian but I was able to test out one of the latest languages added to the Skype Translator preview which Microsoft updated to add additional spoken languages last week.
The preview has had Spanish and English voice translation since it first came out and also supports written message translation for over 40 languages. This latest update has added Mandarin Chinese and Italian languages to the spoken translation service and last week I had the chance to try it out.
As I was coordinating with Microsoft to set up the demo session I was asked which language I wanted to test. Since I speak Italian I thought it would be the best option because I could then accurately judge how well the translations were. If you have ever used a website to translate foreign languages you know how much they can miss their mark at times.
So Microsoft provided me with the Skype contact info for my Italian Consultant and we had about a 30 minute Skype call to test the service out.
Overall impression was that the translation service was fairly accurate and worked in real time. I could see the dialog be translated and typed out for me as she spoke. An artificial voice would also speak her translated words in English for me.
Since I understand the Italian language I understood what she said and several times I did not wait for the translation process to finish before I started speaking. This of course caused several instances of confusion/noise on my side for the translator service. However, if I waited patiently and then spoke after hearing the translation that did not happen. Easier said than done when your first impulse is to respond immediately.
I also responded a few times in Italian. Of course the translator preview was set up to expect English from me and did its best to translate my Italian- English but of course this did not work well.
On the other side of the conversation my Italian Consultant would have seen and heard everything I said but in Italian vice English.
Clear and annunciated speech will also greatly improve the accuracy of the translations but I am curious how it handles heavy accents or dialects?
So where is the Skype Translator service heading in the future?
I asked Microsoft about that through several questions and they provided me these responses. Here they are in a mini FAQ for you:
Do both parties have to be Skype Translator Preview members for this translation to work?
Translated calls are best experienced when both of you are using Skype Translator. However, only the person initiating the call needs to use the Skype Translator Preview Windows 8.1 app to complete a call.
Does this work with Xbox Skype App? Are their plans to make it compatible?
Skype Translator can call multiple clients. With some the full experience will be available (such as with Skype for Desktop), with others, such as the Xbox One Skype App, there are some feature limitations. In the future, we’ll be enabling Skype translated calls for all of our users across more platforms.
Will the desktop version of Skype get this feature and is it currently only available in the Windows app?
At this point in the Skype Translator preview, the app is only available for customers using Windows 8.1 and above. However, we are committed to delivering the best Skype Translator experience on each individual platform for our more than 300 million connected users.
I notice you select languages for the contact. What if someone is dual language? Will there be automatic translation at some point?
Our engineering focus for now is to improve translation quality, add new speech translation languages and add support for other Skype platforms. Automatic translation, as well as many more features, are features we will investigate once we have these key aspects of quality and language and platform support addressed.
Check out more about the Skype Translator Preview over at the Skype website.
In hindsight I should have opted for a Mandarin Chinese consultant since I do not understand that language at all. Who knows I still might give that a shot down the road.
If you are involved in a global business this service will one day prove to play the same critical role as email does for you. Definitely something to keep watching.