Skype Calls to offer Live Voice Translation

John Lister's picture

Windows 8.1 users will soon have the opportunity to test a potentially revolutionary feature: live speech translation in Skype.

Skype is a software program that allows users to make phone calls or video chat with other Skype users around the world, using the Internet. Skype is one of the most popular applications of its kind, with over 300 million users world-wide using the service. (Source:

Skype Live Speech Translation - On the Fly

The live speech translation feature has been in the works from some time, stemming back to 2011 when Microsoft bought out Skype for $8.5 billion. It's the latest in a string of technologies that aim to translate from one language to another without using a human translator.

Google and Microsoft have been among the firms battling to refine and extend automated translation, which has evolved in stages. The first was to translate text, something that's been aided greatly by the use of a massive archive of documents made available by the United Nations, which demonstrates the choices made by its expert translators in various languages.

Following that, Google combined automatic translation with speech recognition and synthesis, meaning that two people who speak different languages can pass a smartphone or other portable device back and forth, with the phone hearing and speaking phrases as if it were a human translation.

Skype to Translate Speech in Worldwide Calls

If Microsoft is able to pull off its Skype plans, it would take translation to a new level as the people speaking to one another would no longer have to be in the same location. That could make life far easier for people doing international business. Incorporating the technology into an existing service such as Skype would also reduce technical barriers.

The trial will run on Windows 8.1 PCs and tablet computers only, and initially limited to a small number of languages. It's rumored that the languages expected to be available will include: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Chinese (Cantonese), French, Italian, Korean, Russian, English, German, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish. It will also be possible to have up to 45 languages translated when using Skype's text-based instant messenger. (Source:

Skype Translation to 'Learn' and Improve Over Time

As well as getting the translated speech spoken in real time, people using the voice call test will also see an on-screen transcript of the call, similar to closed captioning on television. It appears Microsoft will ask users to correct any obvious errors and then use this transcript to refine its translation -- for example, when literal translations don't always work in a particular conversational context. It admits the translation will "have a few rough edges but the more conversations it translates, the better it'll get." (Source:

Skype Call Translation Test Program Limited

Only a limited number of people will be able to take part in the free test. Users need to apply on the Skype website and answer questions about their preferred device and languages. That suggests Microsoft will choose participants to make sure they get a wide range of feedback.

What's Your Opinion?

What do you think of the idea of having live speech translation available in Skype? Do you plan to take part in the Skype Live Translation trials? Do you think automated translation is good enough to be effective? Are you worried about Microsoft making transcripts of calls?

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adh773's picture

It would be a major breakthrough and a boon to a lot of people especially business persons. Kudos to Microsoft if it works. A.D.H.