Guest blog post by Helen Gooch, Microsoft Fellow and Master Trainer
I had the pleasure of speaking to the Skype Translator team recently about their project. Skype Translator breaks down communication barriers by delivering voice and instant messaging translation between languages.
Do you remember watching the television show Star Trek and the universal communicator? Speak into it, and no matter what language the other "being" spoke, it would translate back and forth to allow communication. Well, in a nutshell that is the goal of Skype Translator. Skype Translator is the result of decades of work by researchers and will soon be available.
Schools are already excited about this new app with all the possibilities it presents. Imagine students who speak English as a second language who are mastering curriculum while learning English because they can still learn in their native language. Many schools have students that speak various languages, and often not just one or two languages, but sometimes dozens or even over a hundred. Yes, there is a school in Nashville, Tennessee that has students who speak over 100 languages! Think of how education will benefit from real-time language translation with Skype Translator.
Imagine holding parent-teacher conferences in which teachers can clearly communicate a student's progress to parents who speak only Spanish, for instance. Skype Translator will empower parents to ask important questions in their native language of Spanish and the teacher who may not speak the same language will be able to understand and respond. This is already possible today with Skype Translator that translates English to Spanish and reverse Translates back Spanish to English.
The Skype Translator will first be available to translate Spanish and English. If you speak another language, you can sign up to volunteer and participate in helping the Skype Translator team build additional languages. Right now, Skype Translator is based on adult voices, not student voices. What the team needs is volunteers to train Skype Translator in other languages from many different voices.
The Skype Translator is still working on how to properly translate student voices. The Skype Translator team made an important discovery. The pitch of young students' voices is much different than adults. Skype Translator can function beautifully with the voice of adults in English and Spanish, but more errors occur with young children. They are working on this!
Skype Translator Preview – An Exciting Journey to a New Chapter in Communication takes you to even more information about the preview edition of this project, and I do recommend the Skype in the Classroom video that highlights the use of Skype Translator in a classroom setting.
During the process of filming the video, the team discovered that children's voices aren't as easily translated by the technology as adult voices. However, it still worked well – as you can see! Although we are not quite ready for teachers to start using Skype Translator in their classrooms today, we do hope for it to be ready for classrooms soon. Knowledge is powerful and we want you to know that we are working daily to bring this app to you in a manner that is easy to use, fully functional, and most importantly, accurate.
Two other videos you might enjoy are: Skype Translator – How it Works and Skype Translator Early Preview. Once you follow the links provided, you will be up-to-date on where this amazing, not quite ready for prime time, but coming soon tool stands. We encourage you to follow the progress and get ready to try it for yourself, once it becomes generally available. If you are interested in testing the preview version of Skype Translator and lending your knowledge of another language, please sign up here; just select your language and your current computer's platform and you will receive an email from Microsoft once you've been accepted into the program. Please note that at the moment, Skype Translator is only available in Spanish, and on the Windows 8.1 platform. More languages and platforms will be coming soon.