The Ultimate Guide to Real-Time Language Translation

Language translation technology has come a long way since the early days of the internet. Now that everybody has smartphones, it’s like carrying a mobile interpreter in our pockets. Today, artificial intelligence (AI) plays a major role in translating content to different languages. Instant translation through conversational AI has removed language barriers for people around the world.

Only a few decades ago, this technology was the stuff of science fiction. In 1979, Douglas Adams wrote about the Babel fish—a fish that whispered real-time translations into the ears of its wearers—in his famous sci-fi book, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This sci-fi dream is a reality thanks to smartphones and wearable tech like Google Pixel Earbuds.

Instantly translating speech into your language from any other language is now entirely possible.


What is real-time translation?

Real-time translation is the technology that can help you translate one language to another instantly. With the latest neural machine translation (NMT) platforms, two people can have a conversation in different languages with minimal delays or issues with accuracy. Instant translation between dozens of human languages has the potential to change the way we communicate with people around the world.

Google's earbuds have built in technology for real-time translation
Example: Google’s Pixel earbuds have in-ear real-time translation.

How does real-time translation work?

Older versions of translation technology relied on transcribing speech into text. From there, they used conventional text translation to convert the original speech into the target language. Fortunately, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies have completely transformed that outdated process and no longer need to transcribe the original speech to produce an accurate voice translation.

Contemporary real-time translation tools use NLP to translate human speech much more quickly and accurately than ever before. After analyzing distinctive waveforms from a word, phrase, or sentence, they can immediately identify the original language, parse the speaker’s meaning, and come up with a translation in the target language.

This system uses a combination of machine learning and artificial intelligence. It starts with pattern-matching software that can identify sounds from different languages. Neural networks use that information to understand the meaning of each word in the context of the conversation.

Furthermore, these translation tools continue to learn by analyzing millions of documents in various languages. This helps them recognize common speech patterns and avoid the mistakes we’re used to seeing from more primitive programs.

Real-time language translation can currently achieve an accuracy level of 85% within five seconds of receiving input. Since these translation technologies depend on data from the cloud, there is a short but noticeable lag between the input and output.

Even though 85% accuracy isn’t a fully reliable or nuanced translation, it’s more than enough to facilitate real-time communication with unprecedented efficiency. You can expect current delays and accuracy concerns to improve as network speeds improve and real-time translation tools become more powerful.


Who uses real-time translation?

Unsurprisingly, the major tech companies are constantly battling to take the lead with real-time language translation technology. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and other major enterprises already offer a suite of real-time translation tools:

  • Microsoft:
    Microsoft currently leads the way in translation technology. Companies around the world use Microsoft Translator to instantly translate conversations and presentations in Skype, PowerPoint, and other Microsoft products. The Skype translator has been able to increase its use by nearly 400% in its very first year of availability. Microsoft Translator supports over 100 languages.
  • Apple:
    Apple expanded the Siri personal assistant to streamline real-time translation for mac and iOS users—even while offline. At launch, Apple announced compatibility with 11 different languages. The Translate app can translate Arabic, mainland Chinese, English (US and UK), French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Hindi (one of the most popular languages in the world) was not included in the initial release.
  • Google:
    Google launched Pixel Buds, wireless earphones with real-time language translation between dozens of languages—far exceeding Siri. This feature can instantly translate a conversation between two people talking in different languages. Google has added this functionality to some Google Assistant devices and Android phones and tablets. Additionally, Google developed Interpreter Mode to add real-time translation to its smart home devices.
  • Amazon:
    Amazon announced its Live Translate tool for Alexa devices like the Echo. The initial release included English, Spanish, German, French, Hindi, Italian, and Brazilian Portuguese.

Each new advance puts even more pressure on these tech giants to stay at the cutting edge of the latest trends and emerging technologies. With that in mind, it won’t be long before real-time language translation is available on all channels and across numerous platforms, including social media interactions and in-person conversations.


About Localize

Localize is a translation management system (TMS) that helps businesses translate their websites, software, mobile apps, and more. Localize stays up-to-date with the latest innovations in translation technology so you can enjoy the benefits of error-free translation and a highly refined final output.

The Localize in-context editor is the best way for teams to facilitate website translations. Instead of working from text alone, your translators will be able to see where content fits on your site. From there, they can quickly add or edit translations for each target language and see how their changes will appear to local users.

Contact us and join the 700 plus companies that use Localize to streamline their translation management process.


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