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Microsoft's Skype Translator has a potty mouth

Microsoft Skype Translator swear words Chinese
Credit: Shutterstock/Gunnar Pippel

For some reason, simple Chinese translations are becoming laden with unintended expletives.


Microsoft launched Skype Translator, its attempt at real-time voice and text translations, a few months back with much hoopla. It launched with support for Chinese and Italian, with the promise of more languages to come. 

Well, Microsoft might want to go back to the drawing board on its Chinese translations, because the Chinese publication Global Times reports that normal conversations are being translated with a whole bunch of four-letter words being added.

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The report comes from an expatriate's story on filming a documentary in China. He attributes the problem to connections between China and Microsoft here in the States.

"But what nobody from Microsoft's research division had apparently planned on was a little something known as The Great Firewall, which obstructs the Skype system from working consistently," he wrote.

"A glitch in the beta software misinterpreted the words I spoke. 'It's nice to talk to you' was translated as 'It's f*cking nice to f*ck you,' and other synthesized profanity, like the icebox robot in 1970's sci-fi flick Logan's Run, but with Tourette Syndrome. It was quite funny to me - I couldn't help but laugh during repeated takes, to Yan's exasperation - but the tech team were none too happy about it as they worked late into the night."

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I was quite surprised Microsoft led with Chinese translation. Yes, for techies, this makes sense, but all Asian languages are a nightmare to translate to English and I didn't think they would be able to get it right so soon, especially given how bad Asian translations are now. I've had a long-standing interest in Japan and follow some artists on Twitter, but the translation services by Bing is useless. It produces jibberish worthy of "Minions." Bing and Google Translate don't even come close in many cases to readable English. So I had serious doubts it would work.

My father, who speaks Italian, helped beta test the Italian translation and said it worked OK, but that he really had to stick to proper Italian and keep his local dialect out of it. Now, if Italian was a challenge, I can’t imagine what Chinese would be like.

So far Skype Translate doesn't seem to have caused an international incident, but it does still need some work, it would seem.

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