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Alexa can now offer real-time translation

A photo of the Amazon Echo speaker
(Image credit: Amazon)
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Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant will now offer real-time translation (opens in new tab), making use of both speech recognition and machine learning technologies. The new feature will allow individuals to speak to one another in two different languages, with Alexa acting as an interpreter.

In order to launch a live translation session, users simply ask Alexa (opens in new tab) to translate one of the supported languages – “Alexa, translate Spanish,” for example. 

The Amazon Echo (opens in new tab) device will make a noise to indicate when to speak and devices with a screen will display a transcript of the conversation.

“At launch, the feature will work with six language pairs — English and Spanish, French, German, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, or Hindi — on Echo devices with locale set to English US,” an Amazon blog post explained (opens in new tab)

“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.”

Can you say that again?

Studies show that the use of voice apps has increased significantly since the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe, perhaps due to people spending more time at home with their smart speaker. Ironically, Amazon believes that its new live translation feature may prove most useful in the hospitality sector – one of the industries that has been hit hardest by the pandemic.

Once the tourism industry has got back on its feet, it is easy to see how Alexa’s real-time translation feature could prove extremely useful. For hotels and other businesses that receive a lot of international custom, the solution could help break down language barriers.

Although the launch of real-time translation is seriously impressive, it’s unlikely that Alexa will get things right all the time. Amazon has stressed that it is continuing to work on its neural-machine translation engine and improving Alexa’s understanding of colloquial expressions.

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with ITProPortal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.