Star Trek-like universal translator comes to Skype

skype translator

Star Trek fans know that sometime in the 23rd century, a "universal translator" will automatically translate anything into a person's native language.

Good news, Trekkers: You won't need to wait.

Microsoft is rolling out Skype Translator to the masses on Tuesday. It's now officially part of the Skype app for Windows (other operating systems are coming soon).

Skype Translator is magical technology. You can speak in English with someone who speaks Spanish, and Skype will translate both ends of the conversation in real time.

It will provide English closed captions as the Spanish speaker is talking. But it will also read the text aloud, so you can carry on as natural a conversation as two people can have while speaking different languages.

There is a slight delay as Microsoft's cloud engines churn and bubble. Still, the translations come in remarkably fast.

Like Google (GOOGL) Translate or any other translation apps, there are a few comical goofs that will pop in from time to time. But you get more than the gist of what the foreign language speaker is saying -- Skype Translate is good enough to carry on a real, lengthy conversation.

Microsoft (MSFT) also said the translator technology learns as it goes, getting better with time. So adding millions of people to the app will help improve the translation.

A preview of Skype Translator launched in December, but you had to download a special app to use it. Still, it was popular enough that Microsoft said hundreds of thousands of people used the beta version.

skype translator text

Now, Skype users will see a globe icon appear in the top right of the conversation window before they begin a video chat. If you want Skype Translator turned on, just click the globe. If you're bilingual, you can even change your default language by clicking the new settings icon next to the globe.

Before you jump in and expect to be able to chat with your Russian family members, there are a few limitations you should know about: There are only six voice languages currently available in Skype Translator (English, French, German, Italian, Mandarin and Spanish). But the app includes 50 text languages that you can use in the instant messaging part of the app.

If you decide that you need the conversation translated midway through a video chat, you'll have to exit the conversation and restart it. (Microsoft said it's working on an in-conversation tool that will fix that).

Skype Translator is also not yet available on non-Windows versions of the app. But the good news is that only one person needs to have the Windows app in order to make the translation tool work. So if you have a Mac, iPhone or Android device, your friend with a Windows PC can enable the translation on both ends.

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