Hello. This is she daniken, you understand me now.
That’s what you get when you translate “Hello. This is VC Daily, can you understand me better now?” from English into English.
Ah, the miracle of Skype’s new translator.
To be fair, it’s hardly a common phrase, and the translation isn’t all that far away if you receive it aurally rather than visually.
The daniken part is interesting, though. Why is that even in the new translator’s vocabulary? Unless you’ve still got a soft spot for Chariots of the Gods?, I don’t think it’s this guy the machine thought I was referring to, and he topped my Google search.
Of course, it’s a rather cheap trick to make Skype’s translator service look silly. The truth is there is some impressive tech under the hood of the new asset, and it’s a novel little feature for a free service.
Soon enough it’ll mature into a valuable tool to help businesses, artists, educators and students, retailers, and all sorts of professional people bridge a language gap which could otherwise take years and a lot of effort to leap over.
How to Get Started with Skype Translator
I freely admit that if you set up your Skype translation to turn English into English you’re clearly using the hard work of Microsoft’s engineers purely for monkey business. If you have a real language hurdle to clear, however, getting started with the service is simple.
To add in the translation part, you just have to find the Globe icon at the top of your desired
contact’s detail page. It’ll activate a drop-down menu that lets you select the appropriate language for yourself and your contact. Oh, and this is where you go to turn the service on as well.
From there just make your connection and start your video call.
Text-based chat will display in your native language what you’ve typed, and you can check the outcome by hitting the “see translation” script. In the more exciting visual format, your words are quickly translated into text or a rather a distinguished vocal recording, or a mix of both, depending on your settings.
It’s a quick and easy process, but it works best if you follow Skype’s advice to speak slowly and clearly, and use headphones.
That simplicity, and the occasional slip-ups, belie the ingenuity of the background tech that works furiously and unseen to make you understood.
Video Calling in Nine Different Languages
OK, so there are more than a few slip-ups in the current iteration of the feature. And if you call across to an Android smartphone the mobile user pretty much misses out on any of the audio/visual component.
But, you have to give a little slack to a service that was only rolled out to all Skype users earlier this year. The company added Russian to its list of spoken languages in October, making nine in total, and it currently supports text translation to and from 50 languages.
And Microsoft isn’t shy about letting people play with the tech beneath the service. You can actually get your hands on the open source, cloud-based Translator Speech API and manipulate and employ it as you wish.
With it you get the power of a machine that learns as it is used, and grows to adapt its translations on the fly–so maybe there has been a groundswell of interest In Chariots of the Gods? among the API community?
And the more it gets refined through varied uses, the more valuable it becomes.
Future Uses for Video Calling Translation
My personal verdict of the current service available for desktop users (and they get the most advanced features Skype can offer) is that it’s best to wait a little longer before employing the translator in front of your most important clients or potential employers.
There’s enough delay on the vocal translation that it can become hard to ignore the disembodied human voice that keeps talking over you as you speak. And, the missteps that still plague the service after a year make for some distracting text conversions as you speak, and some confusing results as you read what is being said by others.
So, grin and bear it for now, but know that improvements are coming.
Obviously it could one day make the use of expensive human translators–even the text practitioners are a little steep–redundant, opening up international connections for smaller businesses and previously disconnected collaborators.
When planning a future overseas trip, you could cut out the middle-man and have a more productive conversation with hotel and attraction operators. Students could use the service to speak directly to their peers in other countries, learning valuable cultural as well as linguistic lessons.
Hopefully, the lost in translation bugs will eventually become scarce enough to even allow us to share an international sing-along–although, on this evidence, that day may be a little further away than the others.