In today’s digital world, there are plenty of translation options to choose from. Although they vary in accuracy, a translator is available anytime you have a device that’s connected to the internet. However, reliable live translation is a bit harder to find—especially for free.
Amazon announced on Monday that Alexa-enabled devices will be getting real-time translation capabilities. This allows Alexa to translate a conversation between two people speaking different languages. The feature is made possible thanks to neural network machine translation and supports seven languages at its launch.
Big Tech companies have been working hard to make their devices language-friendly in recent years. That includes introducing a variety of translation features. Until now, Google has led the way thanks to its longstanding Google Translate service. Through a feature called Interpreter Mode, Google Assistant-enabled devices are also able to translate conversations in real-time.
Amazon’s latest addition makes Alexa more competitive with Google Assistant and gives the digital helper yet another capability. At this point, it’s unclear how well the new Alexa feature will work. Determining that will require some real-world testing once it launches.
That being said, it looks pretty impressive. Alexa’s new Live Translation supports English, Spanish, French, Hindi, Portuguese, German, and Italian.
Echo device users can trigger the feature by saying, “Alexa, translate [a language].”
From there, the device will beep and the first person can start talking in either language. The feature supposedly allows speakers to talk naturally and use pauses between sentences. Alexa then detects the language and translates it into English. Echo Show devices will also display the translation on the screen.
When users are ready to end the translation session, they can simply say, “Alexa, stop.”
In a company blog post, Amazon said, “The Live Translation feature leverages several existing Amazon systems, including Alexa’s automatic-speech-recognition (ASR) system, Amazon Translate, and Alexa’s text-to-speech system, with the overall architecture and machine learning models designed and optimized for conversational-speech translation.”
Alexa’s new Live Translation feature is an improvement on Amazon’s multilingual mode that rolled out last year. It allowed U.S. Alexa users to speak a combination of English and either Spanish, French, or Hindi. The feature was designed to help users communicate words they might not know in the other language by filling in the blanks with their native tongue.
Alexa can also translate single words and phrases into more than 50 supported languages. These days, that’s a basic feature for any translation service, but it is still useful for quick references.
While Alexa’s new Live Translation feature will mainly be used by everyday Echo owners, Amazon does have an enterprise application. The feature can be used by hotel guests and staff to communicate through the company’s Alexa for Hospitality platform.
Since many hospitality employees aren’t native English speakers, the tool could be very useful for communicating with customers.