Facebook looks to break language barriers with new translation tool

Testing begins for tool that translates posts into preferred language for different users

Facebook is taking a major step in helping users around the world connect with more people by helping them share their posts and comments in multiple languages.

The world's largest social network announced today that its own developers have built a multilingual composer. A user test of the service will begin today.

The tool enables users to compose a single post that will appear in multiple languages. Other users will see that post in their preferred language.

"People use Facebook to share information and ideas in many different languages," the Facebook team wrote in a blog post. "In fact, 50% of our community speaks a language other than English and most people don't speak each other's languages, so we're always thinking about ways we can help remove language as a barrier to connecting on Facebook."

Anyone in the test group can enable the multilingual composer by going to the Language section of their Account Settings.

The composer, Facebook noted, is only available for desktops now, but others can view the multilingual posts across all platforms.

With the multilingual composer, Facebook execs are aiming to let users connect with a broader group of people around the world.

According to Facebook, while the site is just beginning to test the service with individual users, they began testing it with Pages earlier this year.

The composer actually is being used by about 5,000 Pages today to post nearly 10,000 times per day on average, Facebook reported. Those posts are getting 70 million daily views, with 25 million of those views being seen in a language other than what it was originally posted in.

"This will absolutely help Facebook users connect to more people in more places, more easily," said Dan Olds, an analyst with the Gabriel Consulting Group. "This new feature will give Facebook posters a much larger addressable audience and will save them quite a bit of time to boot."

Language, according to Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, continues to be the barrier that separates people the most. This new artificial intelligence-driven tool could help break down that wall.

"This is some of the magic that A.I. brings to the table that can change our world," Kagan added. "This has always been a tough task, but with A.I., it's actually getting much easier."

According to Facebook, engineers used machine translation to change posts into different languages and language identification technology to determine which language individual users need to see posts in.

When creating a new post, users are given the option to have the post written in additional languages. They can specify each language they want the post written in using drop-down selections.

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, called this a big challenge for Facebook since mis-translated posts could lead to embarrassed, and exceptionally angry, users.

"It's a very tough task to accurately make posts and comments multilingual," he said. "Perfect language translation is a chore, but slang, humor and sarcasm are even more difficult. Just think of how many times young kids talk to you in your language and they still don't know what you are saying."

Olds added that this is where A.I. will play a critical role.

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