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Skype releases preview version of its almost-instant language translation tool

Skype is pushing ahead with its ambitious near-instant translation tool, on Monday releasing a preview version that tackles spoken English and Spanish as well as 40 additional languages via instant messaging.

First dibs goes to Skype users who recently expressed an interest in the software via a special sign-up page, though you also need a desktop or mobile device running Windows 8.1 to take it for a spin. A Spanish-speaking friend would be a good idea, too.

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If the video (above) showing Skype Translator in action is anything to go by, it looks as if we could be on the verge of a real breakthrough in software of this type. However, the fact that it’s currently a preview version means we can still expect a few hiccups along the way as the developer team continues to refine the technology behind it.

When you use Skype’s translator, your spoken words are translated almost immediately and delivered to the other person as speech as well as text on the right side of the display. The tool relies on machine learning, so the more it’s used, the more accurate it gets.

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Announcing the rollout in a blog post, Skype executive Gurdeep Pall said the new tool represented “an exciting journey to a new chapter of communication” for Web users.

“As we enter an era in which computing experiences need to be more personal, Skype has looked at ways to help communities create stronger connections and be more productive,” the executive said, adding that the popular online tool “is now removing another barrier to make it possible for people to communicate irrespective of what language they speak.”

Pall said the long-term goal for Skype Translation is to bring as many languages as possible to as many platforms as possible “and deliver the best Skype Translator experience on each individual platform for our more than 300 million connected users.”

Fancy taking a closer look? The sign-up page is still up so jump across now to climb aboard.