Tag Archives: countries

Microsoft Translator launches Levantine Arabic as a new speech translation language

Microsoft Translator has released Levantine, an Arabic dialect spoken in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, as its latest AI-powered speech translation language. It will help businesses, educators, travelers, and non-profits communicate across the language barrier with Levantine speakers during meetings, presentations, and Skype calls.

credit: Photo of Beit ed-Dine in Lebanon by Oida666 from Wikimedia Commons

Levantine, our 11th speech language, is a spoken dialect of Arabic which has over 32 million native speakers.  Since it’s a spoken language that is rarely written, it lacks the large amount of parallel data required to train a usable machine translation system. As with any AI system, without the appropriate amount of data to train the neural machine translation model, the system won’t be able to produce translations that are good enough for real-life use.

However, our researchers developed a novel approach which utilizes monolingual data to train a system for any spoken dialect. This allowed the team to build a working Levantine to English translation system despite this lack of parallel data.

We adapted a system trained on standard Arabic-to-English translation to be used on a spoken Arabic dialect (Levantine) using only monolingual data of the spoken dialect. We developed an approach to generate synthetic parallel data from monolingual data.” – Hany-Hassan Awadalla, Principal Research Scientist 

Levantine is now available as a supported speech translation language through the Translator apps, Presentation Translator for PowerPoint, the Skype Translator feature in Skype for Windows 10, and the unified Speech translation service, an Azure Cognitive Service. With this service, developers can also customize speech transcriptions, translations, and text-to-speech, before integrating them into their apps, workflows, and websites.

Using the Translator app’s live conversation feature, users can have live, real-time conversations with people who speak other languages, on their own device, in their chosen language.

Let’s say you’re a Lebanese business person travelling to Italy and want to have a conversation with an Italian partner. You can speak Levantine into your phone or PC, and the Levantine audio will be translated into Italian text and speech on your partner’s phone or PC. This also works in reverse: the Italian speaker can speak into their device and have real-time multilingual conversations, and the listener receives the response in Arabic. This scenario is not limited to two devices or two languages. It can support up to 100 devices, across 11 speech translation languages, and over 60 text translation languages. To learn more about the Translator live feature go to http://translate.it or watch this how-to video.

Levantine speakers can also have translated, bilingual conversations using only one device by tapping the microphone icon and using the split-screen conversation feature in the app.  Simply select your speech languages, German and Levantine for instance, and use the app’s microphone button to speak in your chosen language. Translated text appears on the split-screen in each language.

Download the Microsoft Translator app.

Presentation Translator allows users to offer live, subtitled presentations straight from PowerPoint. As you speak, the add-in powered by the Microsoft Translator live feature, allows you to display subtitles directly on your PowerPoint presentation in any one of more than 60 supported text languages. This feature can also be used for audiences who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Additionally, up to 100 audience members in the room can follow along with the presentation in their own language, including the speaker’s language, on their phone, tablet or computer. This can also be used with the presenter’s language to support accessibility scenarios.

For example, if you’re presenting to a Levantine speaking audience and speak Spanish, you can choose Spanish as your speech translation language, and Arabic as the subtitle language. As you speak Spanish, your words will get translated to Arabic subtitling in real-time on the screen.

Levantine speakers can now also join and use their phone to ask questions, in Levantine, once the presenter unmutes the audience. This feature is useful for Q&A sessions after a presentation.

If there are audience members who speak other languages, they can follow along with the presentation in their chosen language in the Translator app or at http://translate.it.

Levantine is also available for developers through the Azure Cognitive Services Speech service.  In addition to using the default speech translation models from Levantine, developers can also customize speech transcriptions and translation models using the Custom Speech (http://customspeech.ai) and Custom Translator (http://customtranslator.ai) services.

Developers can then easily integrate speech translation into their apps using the new speech SDK available in several popular programming languages.

To learn more about Microsoft Translator for business, visit the Microsoft Translator site.

Using tech to ease the fear of unexpected US travel ban – IT Showcase Blog

When President Donald Trump announced that people from some countries would be banned from travelling to the United States, many Microsoft employees began to worry, even panic.

The company has many thousands of visa-dependent employees working in the United States, and though only a few are from the six countries that Trump called out in his ban, most had questions about who could be banned next and how they might otherwise be affected based on the heated political environment surrounding the ban.

“It worried everybody – anyone who had a visa status,” says Marty Shively, Microsoft’s associate general counsel for U.S. Immigration. “It created a lot of anxiety. We immediately began getting lots of inquiries from our visa-dependent employees.”

The ban came on a Friday in January, and by Saturday many on Shively’s team were working in the office, doggedly answering one frantic question after another.

“We had a bunch of lawyers and paralegals in the office, doing it the old-fashioned way—responding to emails,” says Shively, whose team sits in Microsoft Corporate, External, and Legal Affairs (CELA). “We were, one by one, working out of an inbox and trying to respond to them all.”

Corporate photo of Mary Shively
Marty Shively, Microsoft’s associate general counsel for U.S. Immigration, turned to his partners in Microsoft Core Services Engineering when his team became inundated with questions after President Donald Trump banned travel from several countries to the U.S.

When thousands of employees and their family members come knocking on your door, you can’t talk to everyone; there just aren’t enough people.

“We couldn’t scale,” he says. “We had to come up with another way of helping all of those people. Most people were just worried—they just wanted to be reassured that everything was going to be OK.”

However, that larger cry for reassurance was drowning out the people who really did need help, people who were from the banned countries, and, worse, who were out of the country and worried that they now wouldn’t be able to make it back.

It all added up to one thing: Shively’s team was going to have to do things differently, and it would need some help.

Turning to Dynamics 365

Iliyas Chawdhary’s team in Core Services Engineering (CSE, formerly Microsoft IT) was already helping CELA build a new Immigration Management system on Dynamics 365 that would allow its attorneys and paralegals to manage and track employee immigration matters, when Shively came calling.

“He reached out to us, and he said things were getting bad—they were just getting bombarded with emails,” Chawdhary says. Adding to the confusion, they found they weren’t answering questions in the same way via all the one-off emails. “He asked us if we could help them automate their responses, so they could work on their high priority cases. We said we would stop everything and work on this.”

The first thing his team did was create a visa-dependent employee engagement portal on Dynamics, which would allow the employees to get their questions answered on a “public” view, and on the same platform, allow the CELA lawyers to manage all their work on the ban on a “private” view.

Chawdhary’s team immediate job was to help the team automate responses to the most common questions that were coming in, like “Will this ban go beyond the initial six countries and be executed for all countries? I have plans to travel and how would this ban impact me? My family is outside of the U.S. and is heading back home, what should I tell them?”

“We wanted to help them from having to respond to questions one email at a time,” Chawdhary says.

The team first started bucketing the common questions under common headings, and then loading the best answer they had for each into the portal. If an employee had a common question, automation served up the answer and answers to similar questions.

Once basic bucketing was done, the second wave of work was to get information from all the many people who were asking questions to figure out who had the most pressing need for help. Chawdhary’s team did this by asking the respondents to answer a series of questions about their country of birth, their family (how many and where they were located), their citizenship status, their current location, if they needed to travel, and so on.

If they were traveling, the CELA team prioritized talking to them as quickly as possible. In addition to reassuring them that Microsoft would help them get through the crisis, the aim was to discuss whether it was better to wait to travel, to make sure they had the right documents, and how to handle requests to search their devices, and so on.

Once an employee hit the portal and submitted his or her information, a case was automatically created, and a priority was assigned. “The goal was to respond to the critical ones within four hours,” Chawdhary says.

Answering the call

Within a few days, the Dynamics portal was up and running and the many questions that people had were being answered without eating into the immigration team’s time. “Two weeks was incredibly fast to get it up and working,” Shively says.

That speed allowed the team to find the employees who really did need help—the select few who were affected by the ban and were travelling or who were out of the country and needed to return. “We had a lot work to do to help those people, and so we really appreciated having our time freed up,” he says.

There were many examples of people who needed help, ranging from an employee of Syrian decent who had just given up his job in Dubai to take a new job in Redmond and was suddenly stuck (his old job had even been backfilled), to an employee from Iran whose wife got caught in Vancouver, B.C., on her way back from visiting family. “Each case was very trying, and stressful,” Shively says.

There was pushback on the legality of the original executive order, which eventually resulted in the ban being temporarily lifted. “The moment there was a stay, we had an action plan ready to go for each person,” Shively says. “As soon as the stay was put in place, we got people moved to where they needed to be as quickly as possible.”

Now, several months later, the lessons from the crisis that the ban brought on are still fresh, and Shively’s team is more prepared if there is a next time.

“There is a legacy that is going to come out of it,” he says. “We’re still trying to understand how far we can go with this Dynamics portal, but we know that in an emergency, we can triage inquiries coming from broad swathes of employees so we can focus on the problems that require the most attention.”

For Chawdhary’s part, knowing that his team could help answer the questions his fellow Microsoft employees had about their visa status was very rewarding.

“I had an opportunity to make a difference,” he says. “I was moved. It was a really humbling experience to see Microsoft really care about their employees, to see the company spend time and effort helping these people who were so worried about what could happen to them and their families.”

Tags: Dynamics 365