By Lance Whitney
I once worked for an international company that was headquartered in Switzerland and have always been fascinated by languages and dialects. I enjoyed the frequent exchanges with Swiss colleagues who knew four or five different languages. Their emails gave me a tantalizing taste of another culture. I’m also half Italian and exchange frequent emails with Italian relatives.
When the person I’m emailing is more comfortable writing and reading in their native tongue than in English, I don’t let my own inability to write in that language slow me down. I simply use Microsoft Translator to translate my emails for them and their emails for me. Not only does it expand my view of the world, but it also gives me the chance to sharpen my Italian as I watch how Translator turns Italian into English and English into Italian.
If you want to translate text in Outlook emails, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, or PowerPoint presentations, it’s easy to do. Maybe you work for an international company, like I did, or perhaps you communicate with colleagues or customers who are more comfortable writing in their native language. None of this is a problem for Office, which offers translation courtesy of an AI-powered Translator service that can translate a selection of text or an entire document, file, or message between many different languages.
Microsoft Translator in its current form is built into the Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint desktop clients for Windows under a Microsoft 365 or Office 365 subscription. Most, but not all, of the features described below are also available in the Mac desktop apps with a Microsoft 365/Office 365 subscription, in the non-subscription Windows or Mac apps in Office 2019 or later, and in the web versions of the various Office apps.
If you use the web apps or have a recent version of the desktop apps on either Windows or Mac, you should be able to follow along with most of the instructions below, although some steps may differ slightly. If you use a version of Office that doesn’t support all the current Translator features, you may still have access to some translation capabilities, albeit less polished, and they may require an add-in. See Microsoft’s “Translate text into a different language” support page for more information.
The Translator service is accessible across multiple Microsoft products and technologies on the consumer and enterprise sides. Translator is integrated into Bing, Microsoft Office, SharePoint, Microsoft Edge, Skype Translator, and Visual Studio. Microsoft Translator is also available as an app for iOS/iPadOS, Apple Watch, Android OS, and Android Wear.
Translator supports more than 100 languages, including more common languages, such as English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic, and some less common languages, including Fijian, Haitian Creole, Icelandic, Kurdish, Maltese, Serbian, and Ukrainian.
The accuracy of Microsoft Translator is evaluated using a BLEU (Bilingual Evaluation Understudy) score. This score measures the differences between a machine-based translation and a human translation of the same source text. One report from 2018 measuring Chinese to English translation gave Microsoft Translate a grade of 69 out of 100, which is a high score compared to human translation. This will likely improve with time, too, at least according to a Microsoft Translator blog post from November 2021 that explains how the company is working to advance its machine translation technology.
Now, here’s how to use the translator in the different Office applications.
If you’ve purchased Outlook 2019 or later for Windows as a standalone app or as part of Microsoft Office or Microsoft 365, the translation functionality is built in. To set it up, click the File menu and select Options. In the Outlook Options window, select Language.
The window now displays your default display language for Office. Scroll down to the Translation section. Here, you can decide how to handle messages received in other languages, opting to always translate them, get asked before translating, or never translate. Next, select the target language if it’s not your default language. Then click the Add a Language button and select any languages for which you don’t want to see a translation.
You can tweak the translator settings in Outlook to better manage the feature. (Click image to enlarge it.)
Close the Options window and return to the main Outlook screen. Open an email you want translated into your native language. Depending on the options you chose, the email will automatically be translated or give you the ability to have it translated. Either way, you should see a link in the message to translate the message to your language. If not, click the Translate button on the Ribbon and select the Translate Message command.
Outlook should offer to translate a message automatically. If not, you can manually trigger the translation. (Click image to enlarge it.)
Run the translate command, and the entire message appears in your native language. You can then switch back and forth between the translation and the original text and turn on automatic translation if it’s not already enabled.
You can easily jump between the translated message and the original text. (Click image to enlarge it.)
What if you want to take the reverse trip and translate an email you’re composing from your own native language to a different language? Unfortunately, Microsoft currently offers no reliable or workable way to do this in Outlook. The easiest workaround is to translate the text in Word, then copy and paste it into your message in Outlook.
The translation service is also accessible for Outlook on the web. To set it up here, sign into Outlook with your Microsoft or business account. Click the Settings icon at the top right. In the Settings pane, click the link for View all Outlook settings. In the Settings window that pops up, select Mail and then Message handling. Scroll down to the Translation section and you’ll find the same settings as in the desktop version of Outlook.
Outlook on the web offers the same translation settings as the desktop version. (Click image to enlarge it.)
When you receive a message in a different language, the Translate feature will offer to translate it for you. Click the link to translate it. You can then switch back and forth between the original text and the translation.
As with the desktop flavor of Outlook, the web version presently offers no workable method for translating a new email from your own native language to a different language. Again, translating the text in Word is your best bet.
The translation feature in Microsoft Word works much the same way in the desktop and online versions.
Open a document that you want to translate, either in full or in part. Select the Review tab on the Ribbon. To customize the feature before using it, click the Translate button and select Translator Preferences. In the Translator pane that appears on the right, confirm that the switch is set to Yes for “Offer to translate content that isn’t in a language I read.” You can also add any languages that you don’t want translated.
If you only want certain text translated, select the text. Click the Translate button in the Ribbon and choose Translate Selection. In the Translator pane on the right, make sure the correct source language is detected. If it’s not correct, click the down arrow for the target language and change it. Hover your mouse over each word in the translation, and the feature will show you the translation just for that word. To add the translation to your current document, click the blue Insert button at the far right.
Select the text you want translated and then run the Translate command. (Click image to enlarge it.)
Similarly, to translate the entire document, click the Translate icon in the Ribbon and select Translate Document. In the Translator pane, make sure the Document tab is selected. Confirm that the target language is correct. Click the blue Translate button at the far right. A new document is created and pops up with the complete translation.
In Word, you can opt to translate the entire document as well as selected text. (Click image to enlarge it.)
Translating from your own language to another works much the same way. Select the text you want to translate (or don’t make a selection if you want to translate the entire document), then click the Translate icon in the Ribbon’s Review tab and select either Translate Selection or Translate Document. In the Translate pane, set the target language in the To: field. Any selected text is automatically translated and appears in the pane. To translate a document, click the blue Translate button.
The translation for Excel works only in the desktop version of the program. Select a cell or multiple cells that contain text you want translated. Click the Review menu and select Translate. In the Translate pane, make sure the source and destination languages are correct. You can then hover over each word to see its individual translation.
In the desktop version of Excel, you can select one or more cells to translate text. (Click image to enlarge it.)
To insert the translated text into a cell in your spreadsheet, select and copy the translation in the pane. Click the target cell and then paste the text.
As with Excel, translation for PowerPoint is available only in the desktop client. PowerPoint can translate selected text (not a whole presentation); it works just like translating selected cells in Excel.
PowerPoint also offers a handy feature that can translate your presentation as you speak it, which is great if you have an audience that is more comfortable in another language. The translations appear as subtitles as you deliver the presentation.
To get started, click the Slide Show menu and check the box for Always use subtitles. Then select Subtitle settings. In the web version of PowerPoint, click the Slide Show menu and select the down arrow next to Always use subtitles. Select or confirm the spoken language. Then select the subtitle language. Go back to the subtitle settings menu to choose where you want the subtitles to appear — overlaid on the bottom, overlaid on the top, above the slide, or below the slide.
In PowerPoint, you can choose a language for translated subtitles and decide where the subtitles should appear. (Click image to enlarge it.)
When you display the presentation as a slideshow, speak the words from each slide or from your own commentary. Subtitles for your spoken words will appear in the language you chose.
The subtitles appear in the translated language as you speak. (Click image to enlarge it.)
Lance Whitney is a technology journalist and trainer with a background in IT. He’s written for a host of sites and publications, including CNET, TechNet Magazine, TechRepublic, PCMag, Macworld, AskWoody, Time, and AARP Magazine, and is the author of the books “Windows 8: Five Minutes at a Time” and “Teach Yourself Visually LinkedIn.”
Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.
Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.
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By Lance Whitney