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Everyone wants to speak a foreign language, but few are up to the task of learning one.
I have been in Germany for 14 years now, and I still struggle with the language. I’m trying to teach the Germans the art of humor, and I have problems translating the British jokes into German (“there once was a rider called Billy, who had an enormous filly…”).
How is Skype Translator Different?
Popular translation services such as Duolingo (our Duolingo review), Google Translate (our Google Translate review), and SayHi (our SayHi reiew), help language learners along with their studying, and I have made great strides thanks to them. But the ultimate dream is the universal translator, the gadget that Captain Kirk or Captain Picard used in Star Trek, when speaking with other species. As the language came through, the computer would instantly translate the words into the alien’s mother tongue.
If you are a struggling language learner, or you have a relative or friend who has trouble speaking your language, then you should feel very excited right now about Skype. They are producing something very close to the Star Trek universal translator. I have had the chance to test drive it and it is freaking amazing. Even my German wife, jaded by translation tools that constantly mangled up her meanings, keeps telling me how amazed she is at how well it works. And if she says it’s good, then it is. She’s a hard woman to please.
We recently went into all the technical aspects of Skype Translator, but today I am going to show you how to sign up, and the features which are available. By the end, I hope to get you as excited as I am about this beta technology, which will hopefully come out of testing soon.
Signing Up to Skype Translator
Skype Translator can be downloaded right here. It is still a “preview” release, so some things are bound to be changed, tweaked, not working 100%, etc. When you click on Download Now, you will automatically be taken to the Windows 8 Store, where you will find the download link to install Skype Translator onto your computer. Obviously, you need a Skype account first, which can be obtained for free from the main Skype website.
Download from the Windows Store
Here lies the first problem. Downloading from the Windows Store means that the Translator is not available for the desktop versions of Skype. You know, the one you were using (and maybe still are using), before the Windows 8 Modern app version monstrosity came along (and Christian agrees that the desktop Skype version is better).
This means that if you want to use Skype Translator, you need to use the Windows 8 Modern app only (it is also available for Windows 10 Technical Preview). Unless you have a second monitor to put it on, that means that chatting and working on something else simultaneously won’t work. First world problems…
Signing in & Tweaking the Settings
So assuming you have installed Skype Translator, start it up. When it has loaded, choose a contact that you wish to speak to — and it’s here that you need to do some tweaking.
Right now, if you want your voice calls translated, you are limited to Spanish only. More languages will obviously follow in the future, but right now, Spanish is the only one available. If Spanish is your native tongue, and/or the language you want to translate to, then click on it with your mouse, until it appears underneath the contact’s avatar.
If you want to only have a text conversation, well then, you are totally spoilt for choice, as you can choose from up to 50 languages! Again, just choose your mother tongue and the target language, and you’re all set to rock and roll. They even have Klingon for all you Trekkies out there.
But wait! You cannot communicate yet, my young apprentice. First we need to visit some more settings. In the chat window, bottom left, is a settings icon. Click on that to find some more things you need to fix.
Everything is fairly self-explanatory. Make sure your spoken and written languages are correct, and if you will be taking advantage of the Spanish video/voice translation, then choose whether or not you want Bob or Jane to be your translator.
Having a Video/Voice Conversation
As previously indicated, voice and video conversations are currently restricted to Spanish to English (and vice-versa) only. Which is frustrating me because I don’t know any Spaniards to test this on. However it sounds very cool, and I hope it arrives for other languages soon, especially German.
As you speak through the microphone in your own language, Bob or Jane (whoever you chose in your settings) will automatically speak the translation to the person at the other end of the call. When they speak back to you in their mother tongue, it will translated back to you in your language simultaneously. You can either have it spoken to you, or you can instead see the text translation on the screen.
Please officially release the German version, Skype! Then I can finally have a discussion on the meaning of life with my mother-in-law.
Having a Text Conversation
Translating text conversations is one Skype feature I have been making extensive use of in the past couple of months or so. My German wife speaks fluent English, so there is no need to use it with her. But she helped me test it nonetheless, and some German friends also got the chance to chat to me via the translator.
Make sure that the translator is on (there is a button to click in the chat window — you can’t miss it), then begin typing in your language. When you press Enter to send the message, your message will appear, with the translation in the target language underneath.
As you can see, the translation is in very faint writing, and anyone with sight difficulties is going to have a lot of trouble seeing it. Skype is obviously trying to distinguish the original message from the translated one, by having them in different colors. But they could quite easily use red or blue, and make it look more distinguishable. I’ve found a bug, Skype!
What Could This Technology Lead To?
Once Skype finally get the kinks ironed out, introduce a stack more languages, and bring it out of beta, then these tools are going to change language translation for a long time to come. Services like Google Translate are all well and good, but real-time translation between two different languages, spoken out loud over the Skype phone line? That is definitely a game-changer. International trade will become easier, and there will be no such thing as a language barrier anymore.
You can also expect to see this technology installed into Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana (available on Windows Phone / Mobile and Windows 10), and it won’t be long before Google and Apple bring out their own versions and install it into their own mobile phones and tablets. Then everyone will be walking the streets, having multi-lingual conversations via their mobile phone. I’ve always fancied speaking Russian and Japanese. Thanks to Skype, I may get my wish soon.
So have you tried out Skype Translator? What do you think of it so far, and of its future potential? Have you found any bugs that Skype should know about? Let us know in the comments below.
Image Credits: World flags Via Shutterstock