Skype is the latest company to reveal its attempt at machine translation as a helpful, language-barrier-breaking tool. The demo video looks great – unless, that is, you can speak German. On the surface, Skype’s prototype of its translation tool looks fantastic. Most of the translated English subtitles seem adequate, if not especially accurate. You can also see the Skype expert chatting away, the translated German subtitles appearing, and the German-speaking woman seemingly understanding them. However, all is not as it seems. The German woman is talking painstakingly slowly – nobody would speak that slowly or pronounce their words so clearly in a real conversation – and she isn’t speaking with a regional accent or using slang. She’s also using simplified sentences that often sound very similar to their English equivalents (see the first screenshot below). Given all this, it’s not that surprising that the English subtitles are pretty decent.
The man speaking English, on the other hand, is talking quickly and has a regional accent. He also isn’t taking adequate breaks to let the subtitles appear, and is using idioms that won’t translate literally into German. The German subtitles that the woman is reading are nothing but a word-for-word translation of the English, so they don’t make a lot of sense in German.
Although this demo seems great to the untrained eye, Yestrans doesn’t recommend using this tool with international clients in a business setting just yet. It’s an amazing piece of technology with a lot of potential – but it doesn’t work well enough yet to be sure that your message is getting across. Google translate can work some of the time but can’t be relied upon to be accurate when it counts. The same seems to apply here: the technology is good, and can be useful, but isn’t yet at the right level to deliver consistent and accurate results.