Microsoft Skype just extended its feature permitting users to translate their speech in real time. The company announced that Skype Translator, previously only available for calls completed between one Skype client and another, will now include all calls to mobile phones and landlines.
“Since its introduction in 2014, Skype Translator has made it easier for you to connect with people around the world on Skype no matter where they are,” the company wrote on its corporate blog Thursday. “You can now use Skype to call people on their phones and communicate across languages, even if they do not have Skype.”
Not Quite Ready for Prime Time
Although last week’s announcement represents a significant expansion for the real-time translation feature, which first began rolling out to users two years ago, it still won’t be available for everyone yet. Users will need to be members of the Windows Insider Program, which Microsoft uses to make previews available to members willing to test out new products and features.
Users must also install the latest beta version of Skype Preview on a PC as well as have a Skype subscription or enough credits available to pay for the feature. Users who meet those requirements can use the feature by selecting the dial pad in the Skype app and entering a phone number. An option for Skype Translator will appear next to the call button. Tapping it will bring up settings for Skype Translator.
From there, users can set the languages they will be using and start their calls. Once the people on the other side pick up, they will hear a short message stating that the call is being recorded and translated through Skype Translator. Alternatively, users can place calls to individuals listed as Skype contacts with mobile or landline numbers stored in their profiles. To do so, users can select the contact, then tap on the Translator icon to bring up the options.
A Bit of a Learning Curve
The Translator feature currently supports nine spoken languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Mandarin Chinese, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Arabic, and Russian. That represents a sizeable chunk of the native languages spoken by the world’s population. But the feature is still far from perfect. The company said it recommends that callers use headsets to improve translation quality.
Additionally, since the translation algorithm is being driven by deep learning programs, the system is only as good as the size of its data set. While Translator has been learning from users since 2014, Skype said the quality of the translations would continue to improve gradually as more people use it.
While the expansion of the Translator feature appears to be the most significant development in this release, it isn’t the only one. Users will now be able to capture and share video messages with contacts on Skype even when they are not online. They will also be able to forward incoming calls on their Skype numbers to mobile phones or landlines.