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Microsoft Developing Universal Translator

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Researchers at Microsoft are developing a tool that will allow users to ‘speak’ another language using their own voice

Researchers at Microsoft are developing translation software that can learn the sound of your voice and use it to speak one of 26 languages, including Mandarin, Spanish and Italian.

The software was demonstrated at Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington-based campus in the US and could be used to help travellers and to assist students learn a new language.

Universally speaking

© Scanrail - Fotolia.comMicrosoft says that the translator needs about an hour of training to recognise the user’s voice so that it can construct a model, which is then compared to a stock text-to-speech model for the specified language. Individual sounds used to build words from the custom model are then tweaked so that the translator can use them to speak the second language.

In the demonstration, Microsoft Research scientist Frank Soong used the voice of Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy, to speak Mandarin and the voice of Microsoft’s Rick Rashid to speak Spanish.

It has been suggested that the software may encourage students to learn another language as it may improve their confidence to hear phrases said in their own voice. Soong also said that the system could be used to read out written text on Chinese road signs.

Google added a conversation mode to its Translate tool for Android smartphones last year which allows users to speak into their handset’s microphone before the translation is played aloud to the intended recipient, who can then respond in their own language. Google Translate is also used in the search giant’s Chrome web browser and Gmail webmail service.