Skype translateDo you use Skype or another video chat service to keep in touch with loved ones? Have you considered using it for long-distance oral history interviews or collaborating on your genealogy with a faraway cousin? Language barriers can sometimes become a problem. Skype Translator offers a solution!

Last December, online communications giant Skype announced the debut of Skype Translator. The service launched with two spoken languages, English and Spanish, and more than 40 instant messaging languages. Customers could access it who signed-up via the Skype Translator sign-up page and were using Windows 8.1 on a desktop or device.

The Skype blog has proudly announced that they’ve added Italian and Mandarin to the list of spoken languages in Skype Translator. “As you can imagine, Mandarin is a very challenging language to learn, even for Skype Translator. With approximately 10,000 characters and multiple tones, this is one of the most difficult languages for a native English speaker to master.” The list of instant messaging languages has also expanded.

The post acknowledges years of hard work and testing required for the Mandarin application by Microsoft researchers and scientists in the U.S. and China. “Skype Translator relies on machine learning, which means that the more the technology is used, the smarter it gets,” stated the initial release. “As more people use the Skype Translator preview with these languages, the quality will continually improve.” Here’s a video demonstrating Mandarin translation:

“The focus of our updates in this preview release is to streamline interactions between participants, so you can have a more natural conversation using Skype Translator,” states the recent Skype release. They describe these key updates:

  • Text to speech translation:
    • You now have the option to hear the instant messages people send to you – in the language of your choice
    • Continuous recognition – Recognized text translation as your partner is speaking
  • Automatic volume control:
    • Your partner can speak while the translation is still happening. You will hear the translation at full volume, and your partner at a lower volume, so that you can follow the translation, which will help make conversations more fluid.
  • Mute option for translated voice:
    • There is now an option to easily turn the translated audio on or off if you would prefer to only read the transcript.

stick_figure_ride_mouse_400_wht_9283Want to learn more about using video chat services like Skype for family history? Click here to read tips about collaborating with other family history researchers via Skype. We’ve blogged about how to use third-party apps to record Skype conversations (click here to learn how). Our free Family History Made Easy podcast features an episode on interviewing skills (episode 2) and a 2-part series on how to contact long-lost relatives (“genealogy cold-calls,” episodes 14 and 15).

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