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Skype Translator, Skype’s long-awaited real-time translation update, is now available for Windows desktop users. The program offers immediate voice-to-voice translation in seven languages – English, French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Portuguese, and Spanish – and instant message translation in 50 additional languages. Only one person has to select the globe icon to automatically make an instant translation available for both users. While the update is still imperfect, it represents another big step in the progress of translation technologies. According to Microsoft, the amount of Skype calls made through the service has increased 400% percent since the launch of the translator and French to English has been the most popular language pair so far. The rollout to Mac, Linux, and mobile devices is expected to come soon.
The stated goal of the program was “to make it possible for people to communicate irrespective of what language they speak,” according to a Skype press release from 2014, but the team behind Skype Translator acknowledges that it is not a flawless system. “When we watch these things in action on TV [as on Star Trek], it seems so obvious: you just speak and it comes out translated. But when you start digging into the actual implementation and put it in people’s hands to use, there are so many little details that can make or break the experience,” Vikram Dendi, strategy director at Microsoft Research, told the MIT Technology Review. However, the software is constantly under construction, and like Google Translate, the more people who use it, the smarter it gets.