To announce the release of the Mandarin version of Skype Translator, Microsoft enlisted the help of American photojournalist Tom Carter to create this uplifting advert on location in China.
Skype Translator is a speech to speech translation application developed by Skype, which has operated as a division of Microsoft since it acquired them in 2011. Until recently it only offered near real-time translation between Spanish and English.
The advert opens at a night-time marketplace somewhere in China, with Tom giving viewers the usual spiel about how China is a mysterious place and the language is infinitely complex. He of course makes a faux pas due to his poor pronunciation. So far, so generic.
While lamenting about how the language barrier prevents him from understanding the local culture, Tom heads onto Skype to talk to his local guide about good places to shoot photos the next morning. Here the magic begins.
His guide, Xiang Bin, is overwhelmed by Tom’s new found Chinese proficiency, and the two of them for the first time enjoy a natural conversation, both overjoyed at the ease with which they can communicate with each other.
“Communication is of course the key to my career, in order to be able to explore new culture, you need to be able to communicate with its people” Tom declares as he marches off into the hills with Xiang Bin. “That’s when the barriers come down and you discover the real China, and its true beauty and its secrets open up.”
To wrap up, we’re treated to a beautiful vista of Tom and his guide enjoying the sunrise over the landscape in Yangshuo, which you might recognize from the 20 yuan banknote.
While the translator looks pretty good in the advert (naturally), we expect it to run into trouble as soon as there is the slightest deviation from absolutely standard Mandarin. Still, pretty exciting stuff for those who have no interest in learning a foreign language.
Tom Carter is the author of two China themed books “China: Portrait of a People” and “Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China”.
By Dominic Jackson