I have done another post about machine translations (here), but felt like it was time to do another after having just tested out the new Skype translation feature with my friend. It was one of the most hilarious conversations I have had in a while.
First, my friend and I tried the written translation feature. My friend is from Taiwan, so we were writing in Chinese with some English mixed in. The translations weren’t terrible, but there were some problems.
- At first, the translator didn’t know who to translate. For the first half of the messages, it was only offering a translation for what I wrote. I thought that was silly. Why would I need to translate my own speech for myself?
- Then, unsurprisingly, the machine could not deal with half-Chinese, half-English sentences. Though it did translate, “Can I call you” into a half-Chinese, half-English, “我可以call你嗎?” After living in Taiwan, I thought this was pretty good! People actually do say it that way in Chinese sometimes. But does that make it a good translation?
Next we tried the live interpreter feature. This was the really funny part. The automatic settings were the opposite of what they should have been. Instead of interpreting my native English into Chinese, it would write out what I said in English in similar sounding Chinese characters turn it back to English. Likewise, it interpreted my friend, a Chinese speaker, into Chinese.
I had the hardest time trying to find the settings to fix that! Another tricky thing is to find how to stop the interpreter feature! I couldn’t find the globe icon anywhere on my screen. Eventually, we hung up and reconnected to make it stop so that we could actually start having a normal conversation.
Another amusing feature of this was that it also recorded a fair bit of our “conversation” in the chat section. Here is a sample:
For some reason it only recorded what I “said”. Keep in mind, I didn’t actually say any of this! Eventually, I switched to speaking in Chinese and it could catch basic sentences like, “好啊”, but it had a very hard time actually writing the correct word for what I said.
It made me feel like everything I say in Chinese is the wrong tone! Of course, I do say a lot of the tones wrong, but it was comforting to see that it sometimes also couldn’t pick up my friend’s Chinese.
I realized that it is similar to when I use the “OK, Google” feature on my Android smartphone. Maybe I’ll say, “OK, Google, weather in Montpelier, Vermont,” and it will write, “wed her in mount ear vermin,” instead.
Overall, it was an interesting experiment to use this feature. I don’t doubt that it will be useful for some people, especially between more similar languages. I would say that the Chinese-English translations still have a lot of improving to do.
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