Amazon today announced a new Alexa feature, Live Translation, that will translate conversations between people who speak two different languages. The feature uses Amazon’s speech recognition technology and neural machine translation technology to work, and supports translating between English and French, Spanish, Hindi, Portuguese (Brazilian), German or Italian.
To use Live Translation, an Echo device owner can issue a voice command like “Alexa, translate French” to get started with translating between English and French. When you hear the beep, you can speak in either language, even taking natural pauses between your sentences, Amazon claims. Alexa will then automatically detect the language being spoken and translate each side of the conversation. On Echo Show devices, you can also see the translation in addition to hearing it.
To end a translation session, you say “Alexa, stop.”
The company had been revealed to be working on a universal language translation feature according to a 2018 report from Yahoo Finance.
The new addition may now make Alexa more competitive with Google devices, which can leverage Google’s existing Translate service via Google Assistant. Google Home devices had introduced the ability to translate conversations on the fly in early 2019 across a wide range of languages through a feature called Interpreter Mode. Today, Interpreter Mode works across many Google devices, including smart speakers, smart displays, smart clocks and even Google Assistant on phones and tablets. However, when Google added live translation to its Pixel Buds, the feature initially flopped.
How well Alexa’s translation feature will work requires further testing after today’s launch.
Live translation is the latest in a series of language-focused updates for Echo devices.
The feature follows on last year’s introduction of multilingual mode for U.S. speakers, which allows Alexa users to speak a combination of English and Spanish, French and English, and Hindi and English, for example. Alexa can also translate a single word or phrase into more than 50 supported languages.
In addition to helping users better communicate, Amazon says the feature can be used for language learning and for communication between hotel guests and staff through Alexa for Hospitality, its platform designed for the hotel industry.