Tech

Amazon Echo devices now feature real-time language translation

Live Translation can serve as an interpreter between seven languages at launch.

Future Publishing/Future/Getty Images

Amazon added a new feature to Alexa today called Live Translation that enables Echo devices to translate conversations between two people in real-time. Maybe you only speak English and you're trying to speak to someone who only speaks French, for instance. Live Translation can act as an intermediary to make the conversation easier.

At launch, Live Translation can interpret between a number of languages in real-time, including English and French, Spanish, Hindi, Brazilian Portuguese, German, or Italian.

Amazon

Easy peasy — All you have to do to begin a Live Translation is ask an Alexa-powered device to translate one of the supported languages. For instance, the command "Alexa, translate French" will translate between French and English. During pauses in conversation, the translation will be read aloud (and displayed on Alexa devices with a screen), and a beep will indicate when Alexa is ready for the next person to begin speaking. The translation session can be ended by saying "Alexa, stop."

Live Translation is just one of several live translation tools to hit the market using artificial intelligence, following Google Assistant's Interpreter and the real-time translation available in Microsoft's Surface Earbuds.

Not perfect, but useful — Amazon imagines that Live Translation will help people communicate with friends and family that speak a different language, and maybe pick up a new language while they're at it. The feature could also be useful in retail where employees could help a customer who doesn't speak the local language. That's if it works well enough — real-time translation services tend to be more of a novelty because they're hit or miss. As with all smart assistant-based tech, the idea is that they improve over time as more people use them and contribute data.

Google says that its Translate service is best at translating between common language pairings, such as Spanish-English and French-English. While it's far from perfect, it's usually good enough to get the gist of a message across. And considering these tools are all available for free, it's a marked improvement over the more analog options of yesteryear.