What is Microsoft Translator?

Highlighting both what developers and every day users can do with Microsoft’s latest translation tools

When it comes to translations, Microsoft has quickly become a leader in this domain, rivaled only by Google. However, many of the features and offerings made available by Microsoft aren’t readily known for users. As of now, there are currently over 70 languages that you can use for different types of translation. Here, we will break down different components of Microsoft Translator, what it costs, and why you should use it in your future translation needs.

The Apps

Microsoft offers its translation services in number of free apps you can download for free. First there’s the mobile apps for iOS and Android that you can use on your smartphone of choice. This app hosts a number of features, including:

  • Text translation for both online and offline
  • Camera translation for text in photos or screenshots
  • Voice translation for speech-to-text, including a split-screen mode for bilingual conversations
  • Live conversations with connected devices for in-person conversations with up to 100 people
  • Phrasebooks
  • Pronunciation assistance

The live conversations feature is also available via browser.

Microsoft Translator live feature enables in-person conversations in different languages

The desktop app offers additional features, including:

  • Cortana integration to start or join live conversations
  • Windows ink to translate your handwriting
  • Image and text translation, both online and offline
  • Phrasebooks

These tools are great for when you’re traveling, having a conversation with someone, trying to learn a new language, or trying to understand some texts that you can’t read. Being able to learn, understand, and communicate with others is plays an integral part towards individual learning and growth. And while these things often occur outside of work hours, the ability to use translation services grows increasingly useful in the work settings as well. Especially with the increase in remote work due to COVID-19, telecommunication has enabled businesses to expand their reach across both regions and countries. Because of this, it is useful to understand how Translation services can work in your Office apps as well.

Office Integration

Microsoft Translate is integrated with its latest Office apps for Windows, Mac, and Web. All three have different levels of integration with similar features. Outlook for Windows email translation is currently in the beta channel and soon to be released. In general, you can highlight and translate various text in your Word or PowerPoint presentation under the Review tab. You can also translate entire documents to a different language using Microsoft Word.

One of the key features useful to users today is using captions and subtitles in PowerPoint. This allows you to give a presentation with Translate services automatically detecting your speech to provide live captions and subtitles.

Image showing translation of a PowerPoint slide
Translation detects speech and translates language into subtitles.

The PowerPoint subtitle feature can capture what you say and translate it in real time

This speech-to-text feature is useful for both translating your speech for people in a different language, but also for creating live captions in the same language during a presentation. This is useful when presenting to audiences who might have a hard time hearing you, or even during remote Teams meetings where household distractions might make it hard to hear the presenter.

Microsoft has done a great job at integrating its translation tools into products people use every day, but sometimes you might have a use case that requires more integration with Microsoft’s services. That’s where the Translator APIs come in.

The APIs

Translator is also available to use for integration in whatever application they can think of. As part of Azure Cognitive Services, developers will have access to translate text or spoken audio in a scalable, secure, production ready way. Features include:

  • Translation
  • Transliteration
  • Language detection
  • Calculate sentence length
  • Alternate translations with confidence scores

And the REST API is available to use in a variety of languages, including C#, Go, Java, Node.JS, and Python.

To go a step beyond, users can take advantage of Custom Translator which will allow enhance the NMT systems to understand your own business or industry terminologies and provide for better translations. It’s quick and easy to build a custom model, which is done by feeding and training the model using your previously translated documents.

The pricing structure for Translator offers various plans, including a capable free tier allowing for translations of 2 million characters per month (as compared to Google’s free tier with 500,000 characters per month). There are also options to scale up which can suit whatever your business needs. The pricing structure is summarized below:

 Summary/Table for pricing of Microsoft Translation Services

Document Translator

A useful example that showcases the APIs is the Document Translator on GitHub. This tool requires you to first setup your Azure subscription for translator, and then plug in the credentials to gain access to an app for translating full-fidelity office documents. This means you can upload any Office, PDF, or HTML document, specify an output language, and get back a fully editable and translated document in seconds. This tool can be used via command line or a GUI.

Lost in Translations?

It’s good to have options when it comes to these kinds of services, and while most people still tend to lean Google, it’s easy to see why Microsoft is beginning to take over in this space. With a wide array of offerings and services that function as stand-alone tools, integrate into your everyday Office applications, and allow for developers to build applications that will change how people communicate today. Thanks to deep learning algorithms, advancements have come rapidly in this space and we’re excited to see how they will continue to evolve in the future.


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