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Inside the new translation functions in Excel

Excel 365 is getting two new translation functions to identify language from text or translate text from one language to another.  Let’s see how the work and some problems that will appear.

New in Excel 365 are:

DetectLanguge() to identify the language of the text supplied, hopefully correctly (see below)

Translate() converts text from one language to another.

These features have been in Google Sheets for some time, so these Excel functions aren’t so much ‘new’ as ‘catch up’.  The new Excel functions work almost the same way as GoogleTranslate() which is available to anyone using Google Sheets, not just subscribers.

DetectLanguage()

This function takes some text and returns what language that text is. 

= DetectLanguage(“some text or cell reference”)

Returns a language code, mostly two-letters.  We’ve converted that to a name in the second column.

Or, more accurately, the first language Microsoft’s system can find, see below.

“You know sometimes words have two meanings”

Where DetectLanguage() can mislead is with words which have different meaning in various languages or there’s words from more than one language.

It’s hard to understand how DetectLanguage() decides which language to return – it’s not simply the first language found in the string. For example the two “Thanks Danke” examples above.

Ideally, DetectLanguage() would return an array of possible languages rather than just one. But that’s something for a future ‘wish list’.

For the moment, be careful taking DetectLanguage() results at face value.

We’ll have more on this as we dig into DetectLanguage().

Translate()

Translate converts text from one language to another, with both languages specified (optional).

=Translate(“Text or cell reference”, <Language code of source text>,<Language code to translate>)

Optional Parameters

Both the From and To language parameters can be blank so that Excel will use the default language set in the operating system (Windows or Mac).

Language Codes

Both the functions use international standard language codes like this:

Early frustrations

The translation functions are in preview but they are already being promoted widely by Microsoft. There are some problems and lack of documentation that need to be fixed before these features are truly ready for the paying public.

#CONNECT Errors

Microsoft continues to promote use of Translate() and DetectLanguage() despite reliability problems with their backend system.

Both new translate functions are currently an exercise in frustration.  Many preview users get #CONNECT errors which indicate some problems with Microsoft’s cloud service because there’s an Internet connection.

Unknown errors

There are two possible errors that Microsoft lists but without any essential detail.

Text too long

There’s some limit on the length of text input but Microsoft gives no indication of what’s ‘too long’.  Some guide would be helpful to customers.

Daily quota / Request throttled

There’s also some limit on the amount of use allowed each day but, again, no indication of what that limit is. Also no indication of when a new ‘day’ begins, it could be the users local time, UTC/GMT, Seattle time (Microsoft’s home base) or something else entirely!

Adding to the confusion are two different error messages for the same problem.

Translate() has “Request Throttled”

DetectLanguage() has “Daily Quota”.

A LOT more to come

Peter Deegan is having nerdy fun playing with the new translate functions and especially getting them to work smoothly from their ‘bare bones’ beginnings.

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Who gets it?

Some Microsoft 365 Insiders (beta) have the translation functions in these builds …

  • Windows: v2407 build 16.0.17808.20000 and later 
  • Mac: v16.87 build 24062430 and later  

As usual this is a gradual rollout. Not all Insiders have the functions, all you can do is wait.

Translate automatic or manual in Outlook
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