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Skype Translator can now converse in French and German

Slowly expanding its repetoire, the real-time translation software can now speak six different languages.

Skype Translator can now speak German and French. CNET

Users of Skype's Translator software can now chat with people in French or German.

In a blog post published Thursday, Yasmin Khan, who handles marketing for Microsoft's Internet-calling service, confirmed that Skype Translator is now able to handle real-time translation in French and German. That means the software can converse in six spoken languages -- English, French, German, Italian, Mandarin and Spanish -- as well as 50 instant-messaging languages.

Currently available only as a preview app for Windows 8.1 computers and tablets, Skype Translator lets you chat with with people in different languages, either in speech or via instant messaging. And the translation occurs in real time, so as you speak or type a sentence in English, the person on the other end will hear or see it in French, and likewise with the French-to-English response. It's not quite as quick or as easy as Star Trek's universal translator, but it's a good start.

Translation is also a feature that can distinguish Skype from its rivals. Skype potentially faces competition from Facebook's WhatsApp, the biggest instant-messaging app in the world, with around 700 million users, which has started to add voice calling of its own. To keep and draw in more users on its own, Skype has been expanding its set of features, including Skype for Business and Skype Translator.

And Skype is expanding further. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced that Skype Translator will be bundled with the Skype for Windows desktop app by the end of the summer. The aim will be to increase its use by making it available to all Skype users, not just those who download the current standalone app.

Skype Translator is also proving to be a helpful tool for people who are hard of hearing. In the blog post, Khan related the story of Microsoft researcher Ted Hart, who happens to be deaf. Hart used Skype Translator to converse with his wife, and her spoken words were converted to text in real time via closed captioning. In return, Hart was able to respond to his wife using the Skype Translator's instant messaging.

"This use of Skype Translator has impacted his own life profoundly, and has the potential to impact the lives of millions more around the world who are deaf or hard of hearing," Khan said.

Skype itself should pick up more users later this summer as the app will be built directly into Windows 10, which is scheduled to roll out on July 29.