THE BLOG

Has Skype's Translation Technology Been Previewed Too Early?

05/20/2015 11:08 am ET | Updated May 20, 2016

With Google Translate boasting an average of 200 million users a day, Microsoft will have to up their game to steer customers toward Skype Translator. Skype Translator has unveiled phase two of it's preview allowing its 300 million users to volunteer to get in the queue to try the live translation tech out. In a rush to outbid Google for the attention of translation customers some of the major issues with Skype Translator have not yet been ironed out.

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Skype in Various Languages | Flickr, Creative Commons: Andy Piper

Skype have many languages in which you can translate your IM messages into but this new tech aims to be something akin to Star Trek's real time translation. The service listens to you speak and then translates it for the person on the other end of your Skype call. People have looked at it as a step toward a world without language barriers, but some who've tested it feel it is quite far off the mark.

Phase two of Skype Translator saw the addition of Italian and Mandarin to the spoken languages alongside English and Spanish that came out with phase one. It also updated the IM option which can translate into over 40 languages. Other new features include the ability to mute the translation if one would rather read it and the option to only partially translate speech in order to speed up the process.

One user of the Italian translation service believed that the technology was fairly accurate, if a little on the slow side. He believed it certainly did the expected job but realized the need to enunciate well and wondered how thicker accents would fare.

Jane Mccallion wrote about her experiences with the technology and was far less impressed. Mccallion stated that the program had a very slow startup time, had trouble with its connectivity and that the translation itself left something to be desired with IM literal translation issues.

One of the main issues faced by translation technology meant for public consumption is literal translation which makes idioms and colloquialisms completely nonsensical. It would be a fair assumption that Microsoft would have ironed out such issues by phase two of their preview. As this is a usual complaint about free translation technology, and the reason businesses prefer paid translation services, it is surprising that Microsoft unveiled it's preview without properly fixing these glitches.

However Microsoft are more likely to have been concentrating on the real-time translation service which is the main appeal of their service and what thus far is setting them apart from Google Translate. But if they want to compete with Google Translate the IM service needs to be superior - ridding the system of these idiom related mistakes would surely put them ahead of the game.

Another side of the translation service that people have found disappointing is the choice of languages. When Microsoft presented the service they demonstrated a German translation which is not available in the preview. German is a particularly useful language for business, which we can assume is largely what this service will be used for, so it is unsurprising that users were irritated by the misleading presentation.

Also, French is one of the world's most spoken languages, far more common than Italian. London Translations have noted that French translation is one of their largest requests, thus it could have served Skype Translator very well to have input this language in the early stages of production. It remains a very important language for business as half of Africa speak French and it is the second most taught language in European schools.

It has been argued that the team behind Skype Translator were trying to tackle the more difficult languages first, such as Mandarin and Italian, and the most spoken languages in the USA, English and Spanish. However it does seem like an oversight to the 74 million Francophone countries out there. The service would have gone down better had they included French, German and Arabic.

Between the software glitches and the lack of some of the world's most popular languages for business it seems the Skype software was unleashed too early in an attempt to beat Google's translation service. The Google Translate app is working to turn your phone into a real-time translation device so the race is on to see who will better corner the market.

Google Translate has some stiff competition in the Skype service but its accessibility and quick conversions and add-ons make it still much more widely used than Skype's IM translation functions. Skype Translator has great potential but still has a way to go before it can out perform the Google software available, especially as Google is already ahead in terms of wide usage.

By releasing the software to members of the public, Skype may have done some serious damage to their reputation, regardless of the advances they have made in translation technology and the years of research spent on it. They will have to work quickly before the service is released beyond the preview stage if they want to outshine Google.