Microsoft Teams can now translate your calls — with a catch

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Microsoft has just announced a new addition to Microsoft Teams that it developed in cooperation with the Welsh government. The new feature will make it easier for organizations and government bodies to host meetings in multiple languages.

This will replace previous workarounds that have proven to be a bother to deal with. There’s a (rather unsurprising) catch that Teams users will still have to consider when scheduling a meeting — the translation will be done by human interpreters.

The Welsh public ministers attend a Microsoft Teams meeting.
Microsoft

Microsoft announced its latest victory on its official website. Through this new solution, designated interpreters will be allowed to translate during a Teams meeting, and the people who attend it will be able to pick which language they want to listen to. This invention could potentially vastly improve bilingual meetings, or even those held in multiple languages with speakers from all over the globe.

As this feature requires the assistance of human interpreters, it will only serve a purpose during scheduled meetings where those interpreters will be allowed to attend. In Teams, participants will be given the option to choose the language in real-time as well as switch between languages during the meeting. All of this will be supported by the Microsoft Teams app without the need for any extra steps.

The fact that the feature was implemented in partnership with the Welsh government is not a coincidence. In the blog post, the Welsh chief digital officer, Glyn Jones, notes that live interpretation will be crucial for the running of the government. Wales is bilingual, and as such, translation services are required for a lot of meetings.

Jones praised the new feature by saying: “I don’t think you can underestimate the impact this will have on organizations that operate bilingually or multilingually. We’ve had really positive feedback from the people who’ve tested it with us. The interpreters and the people listening think it’s great.”

The local government started using Teams in early 2020, and prior to this, it had to hire interpreters to attend meetings in person. As the COVID-19 pandemic started, translators had to come up with a workaround in the form of observing the meeting on Teams and translating it via a telephone line. According to Aled Jones, co-owner of the translation company that works with the Welsh government, “It wasn’t perfect, but it got the job done.”

Jones went on to call the feature “groundbreaking” due to the fact that everything happens within the same app and Teams is able to deliver a smooth, seamless experience where the interpretation doesn’t draw too much attention while still providing an inclusive experience.

While it’s not quite the futuristic live artificial intelligence-based translation that many companies are working on or even are already offering, the feature added by Teams sounds like a simple and reliable way to make remote meetings that much easier — and that’s always a good thing.

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