Microsoft recently unveiled that Skype, its popular video-calling app, supports Arabic as part of its embedded Skype Translator.
Skype Translator automatically translates your speech and even computer-generated speech into text. This expands the number of languages available via the tool to a total of eight: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin), Brazilian Portuguese and now Arabic.
The latest addition to the language pack only works in Skype for Windows at this point. The preview version of the translator reached users in January, but the first talk about Skype Translator reached the media in May 2014.
The new language that joins the Skype Translator package comes after Microsoft collected a huge amount of data and developed a training model that has increased accuracy. This means that the company feels confident enough about its Arabic translation module that it sees fit to send it to users, even if only for Windows.
The team behind the translation features explained why they chose to implement Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) in Skype.
"Unlike dialects which may vary greatly from country to country, MSA is used throughout the Arab-speaking world in written and formal communications," the blog post says.
Microsoft adds that this is the variant of Arabic that is both taught in schools and used by professional journalists.
It is easy to see why Skype users would benefit from having MSA support. Arabic is the official language in 22 countries, and it is native to more than 200 million people. Speakers of Arabic come from Northwest Africa to Southwest Asia, not to mention the global expat communities.
Microsoft pulled a lot of resources to assist its Natural Language Processing researchers. The experts with the company's Advanced Technology Laboratory took the reins on the project and managed to embed Arabic speech models for Skype Translator. The progress is promising, so that in-person translations will also be available via Microsoft Translation apps designed for both for iOS and Android.
It is easy to locate the Arabic language setting in the Skype for Windows desktop app - just right under the globe icon. Click on the dropdown menu that allows you to turn on your Skype Translator, and just select both the spoken language and messaging preferences.
Perfectionists or those who majored in Arabic could say that there are many flaws in the implementation of Arabic in Skype Translator. However, this is a temporary state of affairs.
Gurdeep Pall, Skype corporate vice president, did mention that the simple ability to translate from one language into seven others and vice versa is not something to be dismissed so easily. He also reminded the audience that 50 languages got texting support, making Skype Translator one of the most potent tools for communication across cultures.
"One of the fundamental issues of AI has been trying to meet the bar of human intelligence," Pall said.
In January, Microsoft touted that the number of daily Skype calls surged by more than 400 percent since the release of the Skype Translator. The company further detailed by saying that French to English is the most used pair of languages.