Is Skype showing us the future of interpretation?

November 28, 2014 by Alison Tunley

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Is Skype’s new Translator service likely to be how we communicate with people in another language in the future? Or is it too soon to be relying on this type of technology?

It looks like something once dreamt up in Star Trek – but is it the future?

Tech giant Microsoft has revealed a preview of Skype Translator for Windows 8.1. Chances are you’ll have heard of Skype by now – and probably even used it – but this new service almost beggars belief in how it can potentially be developed going forward.

Using the video conferencing service, this latest product is aiming to allow two people who speak different languages to communicate, in a way acting like an automated simultaneous interpreter.

Ok, so the program is called Skype Translator when it’s actually interpreting – we’ll let it off on this minor technicality – but what it’s already achieved is quite impressive.

A demo was originally showcased in May, and this has now been advanced further to the stage where developers are asking for people who are interested in trying it out to register their interest.

How good is Skype Translator?

In fact, Microsoft was so confident in its new gadget’s ability to do the job that it recently showed what it could do live on stage at the World Partner Conference, using it to communicate in English to a German-speaking colleague. Check out the video here to see how it went down.

As you might expect, there were some messages that were ‘lost in translation’, but overall, the general meaning was received by both parties and the conversation flowed reasonably well.

According to Skype, the program will be able to translate instant message chats in over 45 languages and the more conversations it is involved in, the better it will get – hence why those behind it are now keen for the general public to use it.

Will Skype Translator replace traditional translation and interpretation?

If you’ve read our recent white paper ‘The Real Value of Translation‘, you’ll know that there is still no substitute for an accredited translation service – and this is likely to remain the case for the time being at least.

Just like machine translation programs like Google Translate, Skype Translator will probably be best suited for casual interactions rather than a business environment until it becomes significantly more accurate.

Those discrepancies seen in the demo video, while minor, could make a big difference when discussing topics of real importance – and the last thing you want when trying to seal a business deal is a lack of clarity over what was actually said.

Where the program could make a difference though, is helping businesses to open lines of communication with one another in the first place and allowing them to maintain a face-to-face (via video) relationship without always having to involve a third party.

That said, when it comes to dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s, you don’t want to take the risk of getting caught out on the detail. So it’s unlikely that Skype Translator – or similar programs in the future – will replace traditional translation and interpretation for many years to come. As a result, using it as a complementary resource seems to be the most obvious option that businesses will turn to it for.

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