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Amazon today rolled out Live Translation, a new Alexa feature that assists with conversations between people who speak two different languages. Leveraging speech recognition and machine translation technology, Amazon says that Live Translation can translate between a number of languages including English and French, Spanish, Hindi, Brazilians Portuguese, German, or Italian.
The pandemic appears to have supercharged voice app usage, which was already on an upswing. According to a study by NPR and Edison Research, the percentage of voice-enabled device owners who use commands at least once a day rose between the beginning of 2020 and the start of April. Just over a third of smart speaker owners say they listen to more music, entertainment, and news from their devices than they did before, and owners report requesting an average of 10.8 tasks per week from their assistant this year compared with 9.4 different tasks in 2019. And according to a new report from Juniper Research, consumers will interact with voice assistants on 8.4 billion devices by 2024.
Launching Live Translation requires asking Alexa on an Amazon Echo device to translate one of the supported languages. The command “Alexa, translate French” will translate between English and French, for example, while “Alexa, stop” will end the translation session. The device will beep, indicating when to speak in the other language. Users can take pauses between sentences and Alexa will automatically detect the language in which they’re speaking and translate each side of the conversation. Echo devices with a screen will show a transcription of the conversation.
“We see a number of ways customers may interact with this Alexa feature,” an Amazon spokesperson told VentureBeat via email. “[Customers can use Live Translation to] communicate with friends and family that speak a different language [and] practice speaking and learning phrases in new languages.”
The new feature could be especially useful in hospitality, where guests, hosts, and staff might speak different languages. Though Echo speakers are growing in popularity from a consumer standpoint, helping users control their doors, lights, and search the web using nothing but their voice, Amazon hopes to target service industries with programs like Alexa for Hospitality. High-end hotel firm Wynn Resorts has been placing thousands of Amazon Echo speakers in its hotels since last summer, for example. And as of April, Alexa has been able to make phone calls in hotel rooms.
Live Translation is akin to Google Assistant’s Interpreter mode, which supports real-time, turn-by-turn translation in dozens of languages across a range of devices. Moreover, it builds on Alexa’s multilingual mode, which enables Echo devices to speak in multiple languages.