Windows 8.1 users will be among the first to get a crack at Skype’s Star Trek-style universal translator. The Microsoft-owned company recently announced that it is now accepting sign-ups for early access to the Skype Translator Preview.
Skype Translator creates real-time voice translations via Skype—allowing, say, an American entrepreneur speaking English to collaborate with a Chinese manufacturing expert speaking in Mandarin. The feature uses a computer voice to relay the translations and displays a transcript at the bottom of the screen at the same time.
The impact on you at home: When Microsoft demonstrated Skype Translator in May and again in the summer, the service looked impressive despite a few poor translations. But the natural flow of a conversation ends up stilted since you have to wait for the computer to translate each statement. Nevertheless, the new service, even in its beta form, could be a boon to anyone who needs to speak with someone overseas and avoid a conversation in broken English (or another language). Over time, Microsoft says, the feature will improve as more people use it.
It’s not clear when Skype Translator will become a standard part of Microsoft’s popular messaging platform. But anyone hoping to try out the new feature can sign-up for the preview, which is due out before the end of 2014.
To use Skype Translator you’ll have to be running Windows 8.1, but it appears the new feature works with Windows 10 Technical Preview as well.
Not everyone who signs up will get in on the preview, and acceptance depends on a number of factors such as the date you registered, the devices you use, and the languages you want to use with Skype Translator.
The preview will only cover a limited number of languages, but Microsoft hasn’t specified which languages those will be. Based on the demos Microsoft has been doing, it’s pretty clear that German will be included and English is a given. Other Western European languages such as French, Spanish, and Italian also seem likely, along with Chinese and Japanese—that’s just speculation, however.
The sign-up page for Skype Translator says the new feature will eventually support up to 45 languages.