Skype Translator: Is It Speaking Your Language?

March 1, 2015 Fotini Limes

As a team member of Globalization Partners International (GPI), a translation company that leverages global communication and collaboration tools daily, I became an early adopter and fan of Skype more than 10 years ago.  Now it is an important communication tool for all employees of GPI.

For people unfamiliar with Skype, I guess those people still do exist, Skype was the brainchild of two Scandinavian entrepreneurs, Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström.  These men, with the help of a team of Estonian programmers, first released Skype in August 2003 as telecommunication application software that provided the ability to chat, followed by video chat and voice calls, including conference calls and screen sharing.  Over 10 years later Skype remains mostly free, but subscribers must purchase Skype credit in order to make calls to land lines and mobile phones; a model called "freemium."

In 2005, Skype Technologies SA was acquired by eBay for $2.5 billion in cash and stocks, and in 2011, Microsoft Corporation acquired Skype Communications for $8.5 billion and the company became a new Microsoft division.

 

Microsoft Technology Enables Skype Translate

Microsoft's research and development team began working on language translation software in 2009, when they took over the funding of Geoff Hinton's work, which included developing a machine learning model that mimicked the human brain, to gain a better understanding of English speech [www.companiesandmarkets.com]. Microsoft used some of that technology to power their own Bing Translate, but the collaboration with Skype has created an ambitious endeavor to overcome language barriers by enabling the internet-calling software to communicate in any language.

GPI_Skype_2

Business and ecommerce globalization have only increased demand for language translation software and by 2020, the market for global translation software is expected to reach over $71 billion.  Skype Translate is aiming to be a major player in that space and may very well revolutionize internet calling as we know it.

 

How Does It Work?

Skype Translator is meant to give you the ability to communicate in a language you don't speak or understand. You simply set up a Skype video or call and begin speaking. Skype Translator is currently available in English and Spanish but more languages will follow soon.

According to Skype's website, when using Skype Translator:

  • Your conversation is translated into another language in near real-time.
  • What someone else says is translated back in your language.
  • An on-screen transcript of your call is displayed.
  • You can send instant messages across 40+ languages.

Preview Users

Individuals have the opportunity to preview Skype Translator, demo and help fine-tune it by registering at http://www.skype.com/en/translator-preview/.

An email address and information regarding the device you are making Skype calls from, and of course, what languages you are interested in, are all required.  For example, I am on Windows 7, have an Android phone and I am a native German speaker so I selected those three as my options.

GPI_Skype_3

Skype states that it will initially support a few languages (I assume the ones listed on the first page) and will only be available on devices running Windows 8.1 and 10. There is limited availability for preview testers so you may or may not get selected.

I received a confirmation email which stated that the preview is scheduled to begin the end of 2015 and an invitation will depend on when you sign up, your language and device used. I will keep readers posted should I be one of the lucky few to get picked.

In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy the following English-German Skype Translator demo as much as I did. It was presented last July at the Worldwide Partner Conference 2014 and Microsoft posted this YouTube video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJIILew6l28

 

Skype and Localization

Skype currently supports the following locales and languages: Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (Traditional and Simplified), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Nepali, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian and European), Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian and Vietnamese.

Windows has, at least, an additional 31 full or partial localizations available for some of the following languages: Afrikaans, Albanian, Armenian, Basque, Belarusian, Bosnian, Breton, Chuvash, Cornish, Georgian, Irish, Khmer, Macedonian, Mirandese, Persian, Scottish Gaelic, Tamil, and Welsh.

It should be noted, however, that some countries restrict the use of Skype, partially, or completely.  For example, China monitors text messages within China, as well as exchanges with the outside world, and India no longer allows calls to mobile or landlines via Skype.  So, it will be very interesting to see how countries, like China and India, will adopt this new revolutionary technology, or perhaps not at all.

 

What Does The Future Hold?

As Gurdeep Pall wrote on Skype's Big Blog:

"This is just the beginning of a journey that will transform the way we communicate with people around the world. Our long-term goal for speech translation is to translate as many languages as possible on as many platforms as possible and deliver the best Skype Translator experience on each individual platform for our more than 300 million connected users."

This line up of language capabilities, plus the support of Microsoft, has created opportunities and possibilities that appear to be limitless.  I am very curious to see what the future holds for real-time multilingual internet-calling software, which may one day allow us to simultaneously communicate in dozens of different languages and instantaneously comprehend one another.

 

Further Information on Social Media

As a diligent language translation services agency, GPI always attempts to keep its customers and followers up to date with useful information on social media, among other topics.  You can find additional information in one of our previous blogs, "Top Tips for Successful Multilingual SEO."

To appreciate just how far we've come in social media and social networking, you may also enjoy reviewing some of our other blogs:

Additional Resources on SEO and SEM:

GPI's SEO and localization teams will conduct your multilingual keyword analysis, ranging from terminology accuracy equivalents to keyword density factor evaluation and competition analysis.  GPI also offers Global Search Engine Marketing Services and many other translation and localization services.

For more information on issues specific to search engine marketing, you may wish to review our previous blog on A Multilingual Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Primer.

For information about country-specific localization and SEO practices, please see

Contact GPI for more information via e-mail at info@globalizationpartners.com, by phone at (866) 272-5874, or by requesting a free search engine marketing and optimization quote on your project.

About the Author

Fotini Limes

Director, Global Accounts. Fluent in German, Greek, French and Italian (as well as English), Fotini has over 15 years of localization industry experience serving in a multitude of operational and sales roles. She has extensive experience in document, software, website and multimedia localization and manages day-to-day global production for GPI's project management and translation teams. She has lived and worked in Germany, Greece, France and the USA.

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