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skypeMicrosoft is launching the first preview of its Skype Translator program this morning, giving Skype users on Windows 8.1 the ability to have their spoken words automatically translated between English and Spanish in real time, and back again, while they’re using video chat.

The feature, first unveiled earlier this year, will later expand to additional languages for voice translation. Translation of instant messages is available in more than 40 languages.

The feature has been impressive in public demonstrations, most recently at Microsoft’s shareholder meeting, showing the potential to break down language barriers. The latest example: This Microsoft video showing students in Mexico City and Tacoma, Wash., using Skype Translator.

But the launch of the public preview will provide the first large-scale, real-world test by Microsoft users.

“Microsoft was one of the first to delve into the challenge of speech translation,” say Skype representatives in a post this morning. “Recent improvements in speech recognition, made possible by the introduction of deep neural networks combined with Microsoft’s proven statistical machine translation technology, allow for better translation outcomes, making meaningful one-on-one conversation possible. Skype is about helping people communicate – mind to mind, heart to heart. Skype Translator is the latest evolution of this.”

It’s one of the biggest collaborations between Skype and Microsoft’s researchers since the communications company was was acquired by Microsoft for $8.5 billion three years ago.

The sign-up page for the feature is here. See the full Skype Garage post for a deep dive on the technical details of the Skype Translator feature.

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