To show off the tool, Skype set up a game between two elementary school classes: one in Tacoma, Wash. and one in Mexico City. The two groups had to figure out, Twenty Questions-style, where the other classroom of kids lived.
The adorable and impressive result is below.
Yes, it's not a fluid conversation. You may not want to use it for high-profile negotiations or sensitive conversations. But it's pretty darn good -- especially if Skype incorporates it into the free version of its software.
Language is a big problem for tech to tackle, but there's no denying that we've come a long way. Rather than phrase books and dictionaries, a lot of tourists are now content to pack their smartphones with apps such as Google Translate when taking short trips abroad. And language-learning apps such as Duolingo or a number of keyboard apps are taking off in popularity as a supplement to more formal language education -- or for people who just want to flirt with the idea of being multilingual.
In the future, Skype engineers said that they're looking to expand it to more languages, and continue to teach the product the different conversational tics in a number of languages. The firm hasn't said exactly which languages are next in line for development, but those interested in registering for the preview can express interest in the following: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), French, Italian, Korean, Russian, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and English.
Those interested can sign up to be a part of the preview on Skype's Web site.
We're a while away from replacing all human translators with machines, but Skype Translator does show how language technology stands to make translation services a little more accessible -- and to bring the world just a little bit closer together.