Microsoft’s multi-lingual video conferencing tool, Skype Translator Preview, has added what’s arguably the world’s most popular language: Mandarin Chinese.
Starting today, Skype Translator Preview can do real-time voice translations of both Mandarin and Italian. In real-time, Skype Translator can translate spoken words from English to Mandarin and Mandarin to English, creating a near fluent conversation between two people who might otherwise not be able to communicate.
The translation isn’t perfect yet, according to Microsoft Research’s Olivier Fontana, but both Italian and Mandarin Chinese have reached a competency level where the Skype Translator team is comfortable releasing the update to the tens of thousands of people in the invite-only program.
The Chinese addition, which gets spoken by over a billion people worldwide, bringing the total number of real-time voice translation languages to four: Spanish, English, Mandarin Chinese and Italian. Microsoft recently added Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian to the app’s text translations services, which increases that number of supported languages to 50.
“It helped us work out the specificities of Chinese.
– Olivier Fontana, on how having a Microsoft Research team in China helped the development process
The new languages have arrived automatically in Skype Translator Preview, but Microsoft Research also has a handful of interface updates that Windows 8.1 users will have to download an app update to use.
The new app now shows partial sentence translations as the system figures them out. This may allow for more fluid conversations, according to Fontana.
They’ve also worked to try to clear up confusion that can occur when two people are speaking in different languages and the system is speaking over them in translated voices. The update will subtlety lower the audio on the native speaker’s voice. So on the English side, you’ll better hear the English-speaking translation and vice versa for the person speaking to you.
The update will also make it easier to hide the on-screen text-to-speech, cutting down on confusion from seeing other languages, which they cannot read anyway transcribed on-screen.
Skype Translator will work natively on Windows 10 machines, according to Fontana.
“Data is our gas, that’s how we go forward.”
-Olivier Fontana on improving the Skype Translator Preview system