Microsoft has released Presentation Translator, a translation tool for PowerPoint. It’s part of the Microsoft Garage Experimental Project, so you can imagine it’s not perfect yet, but it promises big. According to the website, it is a PowerPoint add-in that allows you to add live subtitles to your presentation, and it will translate the text in your PowerPoint document. But – does it work?

Downloading Presentation Translator is pretty easy and it just sits on the Slide Show tab in your PowerPoint ribbon. You have two options: start subtitles, or translate slides – and you have 100 languages to choose from. I’m going to look at each of these in detail, but start with the second of the two.

Translate slides

I started with something simple – a presentation all about eLearning jargon busters. I hit the translate slides button; I choose my language. *Pause for dramatic effect* I scroll through the slides, and actually, it’s not bad.

Microsoft Presentation Translator review

It just translates the slide content – it doesn’t venture below into your speaker notes, so that’s something to bear in mind. Incidentally that’s what the live subtitling should deal with, but we’ll get onto that later.

The good

  • It keeps the formatting.
  • Anything it doesn’t recognise as a word – I may have had a few ‘blah-blah-blahs’ in there – it just ignores.
  • It translated pretty much all of my simple sentences without any problem.

The bad

  • Some of the translation was incorrect – as far as I can tell, it’s a word-for-word translation:

     Will this work on my LMS?
     PT: Sarà questo lavoro sul mio LMS?
     Correct: Funzionerà sul mio LMS?

  • It threw in a couple of exciting capital letters, seemingly just for the fun of it.
  • Brand names get translated if they are recognisable words: Articulate Storyline becomes Articolare trama – probably not quite what the Italians call it…

Microsoft Presentation Translator review

Conclusion

This kind of tool is risky. If you don’t have the discernment to pick out any mistakes (which is why you probably need the tool in the first place) then you’re going to be presenting slides that may not be getting your intended meaning across.

Having said that, I think if you keep text to a minimum on your slides, then the visuals will end up doing a lot of the heavy lifting for you anyway, and single-word translations are going to be much more accurate than longer sentences.

If this sounds like a pipe dream, have a read of this and find out how you can make beautiful visual content, for whatever it is you’re producing.

 

Live subtitles

The second – and really the most impressive – part of Presentation Translator is the ability to put live subtitles on your presentation. I confess I was a little apprehensive about this: while you present, PowerPoint recognises your voice and live translates into your target language.

Microsoft Presentation Translator review

So how does it work? You hit live subtitles and after it sets itself up, you can just present as normal and watch your subtitles appear. There are also QR codes and links for your audience to access the subtitles remotely if they can’t read the screen. You can also decide where the subtitles are displayed as well as setting the text size. Nice touch.

Microsoft Presentation Translator review

I, at first, thought that it would merely translate my speaker notes and try to time them with certain key words. Oh no. Folks. This is way more than that. It is a literal live translation working in real time.

I presented a couple of slides quite naturally – plenty of ‘umms’ and re-tracing my steps. I beta tested this into French and Spanish with my lovely colleagues Ingrid and Miriam. So – what is the verdict?

*Drum roll please*

  • French: According to Ingrid, it was about 20% correct, with the rest sounding like a ‘drunk Year 8 trying to speak French’.
  • Spanish: According to Miriam we had 60% correct – at the very most.

Oh.

So what was the problem? Well, much like the slide translation, it’s done on a word-for-word basis. Some of it will be accurate, but vast swathes of subtle meaning will be missed as each word is taken out of its context.

 

The verdict

This is a pretty basic translation tool. It is full of mistakes that could lose your audience at a variety of points. If you have complex text on your slides or references to specific products, you’re likely to lose a lot of the meaning you’ve worked so hard to squeeze in there.

I think the best way to get a verdict on this is to think about the use case: I’m heading to a different country to tell people all about eLearning jargon busters. I don’t speak the language, and I have no way of checking that the add-in has done it correctly. I go, I present, a lot of the language is incorrect, but they sort-of get the idea.

The question you have to ask yourself, is will this enhance or damage the relationship – does showing something littered with errors endear you (‘thanks for making the effort’) or does it make you come across as incompetent (‘what were you thinking!?’). That’s what it all comes down to.

 

But don’t leave just yet!

Do you remember the early days of Google Translate? I used to translate things when I was feeling sad, just so I could get a quick laugh.

Now it’s a highly sophisticated translation tool that recognises a lot of subtleties in language. It’s still not perfect (it also failed the ‘Will this work on my LMS?’ test), but it’s leaps and bounds on from where it used to be.

I, for one, applaud Microsoft for rolling out Presentation Translator, and I think we should all download it and encourage them to keep developing it. Because one day it’s going to be one of the most helpful add-ins out there.

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Hannah Brownlow

Managing consultant

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