Language barriers might be a bit less insurmountable later this year when Microsoft releases the first beta of Skype Translator. As demoed last night at the Code Conference, Redmond is close to implementing near real-time voice translation of multiple languages in a Skype call. We might be getting close the the fabled babel fish.

The feature is already smart enough to translate between English and German with proper grammar and inflection almost instantly. More languages are expected, but there are a lot of nuances to each language that need to be worked out – it's more complicated than just translating word by word. If Microsoft can pull this off, it would be a blow to Google, which has been working on making translation faster for years.

The translation feature might not be a free service when it is ready for an official release, and you can expect it to be on Microsoft's platforms first. However, Skype Translator should make its way to Android and other platforms in time. The first beta will come to Windows 8 before the end of 2014.

[Microsoft, Microsoft Research]