When Cisco announced the upcoming real-time translation feature for its Webex conferencing platform in December 2020, it said it would begin with 15 languages.

It quickly realized that wasn’t enough. Today the company introduced real-time translation from English to 109 languages. Each user can select their preferred language during a call.

The initial functionality includes translation from English to languages such as Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish, as well as more localized languages such as Danish, Hindi, Malay, Turkish and Vietnamese.

Later this year, Cisco will add bidirectional translation to and from 70 languages.

“Think about what that does for the world,” said Jeetu Patel, senior vice-president and general manager of security and applications during a media briefing. “You’ve made the world an equal playing field for anyone that speaks any language; they can be able to build a tight bond and relationship with each other. This is the very beginning of what we’re starting out with, and there’s a lot more to come in this entire area of translation.”

Patel said that the translation is performed via machine learning, and it will improve the more it is used.

Available now in preview in the Webex Meetings client, the functionality will be generally available in the new Webex unified app in May.

Patel explained the rationale behind the unified app, which combines synchronous communications like meetings with asynchronous communications like messaging.

“The beauty about having a single product, the reason asynchronous messaging is such an important part is what happens before a meeting, what happens during the meeting, and what happens after a meeting should have some continuity,” he explained.

Meeting prep and post-meeting interaction can happen asynchronously – it doesn’t have to be real-time – while the meeting, be it voice only or video, is synchronous. The user experience is unified, with transcriptions and recordings of the meeting available in the space for later reference.

“One of the things that we think is wrong is the way that people measure the metrics on how many minutes have you spent in a meeting,” he observed. “That’s actually the wrong metric. I don’t care how many minutes you spend in a meeting. I care how few minutes you spend in a meeting and still get the job done. What we need to do is reduce the amount of time that people spend in synchronous meetings, but get a lot of work done asynchronously. And then, when you need to meet synchronously, that becomes super, super-potent in the way that you do it. And so that’s where we’re going to be using these things together. And we now have a single experience.”

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