Twitter brings Bing translation to iOS, expands use on Web

Seeing the World Cup as a chance to lower language barriers, the social site enables translation in its iPhone and iPad app, and Twitter.com timeline. It's a win for Bing.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

Twitter has begun using Bing-based language translation in its iOS app.
Twitter has begun using Bing-based language translation in its iOS app. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Just in time for the global and multilingual World Cup, Twitter has broadened its use of Microsoft's Bing translation services to iPhones and iPads .

The company's app for Apple's mobile devices has now begun showing an option to show a translated version of tweets below the native-language version. As with Twitter's Android app translation test, which CNET first reported in May, the translation doesn't show in the stream of tweets shown in the app's timeline, but does when you tap on an individual tweet.

But another Twitter change indicates that limit could be lifted. Twitter already showed a translation option for individual tweets seen through its Twitter.com Web interface, but now it's expanded that to show the translations in the timeline as well. Since it's more common to see the tweets in the timeline, Twitter's change means many more people are likely to notice and use the translation service.

The changes could increase Twitter's already considerable utility and influence as a global communications medium. People use Twitter not just to find about about sporting events in Brazil, but also political protests in Turkey, elections in Europe, and civil war in Syria.

On Twitter.com, the translation option doesn't show unless a person hovers a computer's mouse pointer over the tweet in question, aside from a small gray globe icon that indicates the translation is available. Once the words "View translation" are clicked, Twitter adds the translated version beneath a phrase such as, "Translated from Japanese by Bing."

Twitter now shows a translation option on Twitter.com's timeline view. Clicking it expands the tweet with a Bing-translated version.
A translation option now shows on Twitter.com's timeline view. Clicking it expands the tweet with a Bing-translated version. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The moves, though potentially part of Twitter's experimentation rather than final features, are important for the company as it expands beyond North America and exposes people in one part of the world to voices from another. Twitter is widely used to let people see the utterances of celebrities, politicians, and companies that may well be in a different part of the world.

The World Cup -- a massive phenomenon involving fans, athletes, marketing, and famous people in the audience -- is well suited to put Twitter translation services through their paces. The soccer (called football by the vast majority of the many nations in it) competition draws a global audience measured in the billions every four years.

Twitter's move is also a feather in Microsoft's cap since it's using Bing's translation service. As in many online activities, Microsoft is trying to catch up with Google.

Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella touted the Twitter translation partnership in a tweet of his own Friday. "Futbol, football, fuβball, Soccer: @Bing on @Twitter can help translate the beautiful game," Nadella said, offering a link to Twitter's World Cup page and showing a screenshot that showed the translation feature in action.

Translation fits neatly into Google's mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," and the company builds translation into Chrome and Gmail while licensing its service so companies like Airbnb can use it to break down language barriers.

Twitter declined to comment for this story.

Short tweets laced with abbreviations and hashtag can be difficult for computers to translate. For those who want to ensure their message gets across in another language, One Hour Translation offers a free tweet translation service, too, as long as you're willing to grant the company a little publicity. To use it, you can tweet a message including the @OHT address and the language you want the message translated into.

Updated, 2:15 p.m. PT: Added that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is promoting the translation partnership.