How Teams Mobile Clients Can Translate Channel Messages

Mobile Catches Up with Desktop and Browser Clients

Nearly three years ago, the Teams desktop and browser clients gained the ability to use the Microsoft Translator service to translate text from many different languages (60 then, 90 now) to the default language configured for the client. The feature is especially popular in large multinational organizations because it allows people to express their thoughts in their own language in the confidence that their peers can read and understand what they write. It’s a great thing to be able to do.

Announced in message center notification MC258898 as “On-demand channels post translation in Teams iOS and Android” (May 29), Microsoft has upgraded the Teams mobile clients for iOS and Android with the same capability. Roll-out begins in early June. The relevant Microsoft 365 roadmap items are 83399 (Android) and 63219 (iOS). I tested the new feature with Teams for iOS on an iPhone 11.

Translating Into Your Preferred Language

The Teams mobile clients only support translation for channel conversations. The desktop and browser clients can translate both chats and channel conversations. Figure 1 shows that the General channel in a team has conversations in German and Chinese (the wonders of Google Translate are helpful in writing about topics like this).

International messages in a team channel (as shown by Teams for iOS)
Figure 1: International messages in a team channel (as shown by Teams for iOS)

The option to translate is in the […] menu (otherwise accessed by pressing on the message for a couple of seconds, aka a “long press”). Select the translate option (Figure 2) to have Microsoft Translator translate the text into your preferred language (Figure 3). Presenting the information inline is a better implementation than used in Outlook mobile, which displays the translated text on a screen generated by Microsoft Translator.

The translate option available though the Teams "long press" menu
Figure 2: The translate option available though the Teams “long press” menu

The device needs a network connection to send the text to Microsoft Translator. Once the client receives the translated text, it caches the text cached locally to make it viewable without a connection. The quality of the translations is very good. Idiomatic phrases, slang, or shorthand can challenge the translation service, but usually the output text is more than good enough to be comprehensible.

Teams for IOS displays the text translated by Microsoft Translator
Figure 3: Teams for IOS displays the text translated by Microsoft Translator

Limits for Messages

The Translate feature can handle large messages, but a limit does exist. Teams supports posts of up to 25 KB. However, the buffer allowed for translations is smaller than this. In practical terms, you can expect to be able to translate messages of up to 1,000 words. The exact number depends on the language used and the size of words. If you try to translate text which doesn’t fit the maximum transmissible amount sent to Microsoft Translator, Teams tells you that the message is too long to translate.

Client Settings

The Settings for the Teams mobile app has a new Translation section to allow users to define:

  • Their preferred language (taken from the device settings, but you can override).
  • Whether to auto-translate messages in other languages.
  • Languages which Teams should not translate. By default, this is the preferred language, but you can add extra languages.

Administrators have no control over these user settings.

Administrative Control

The ability for a user to translate messages in all clients is controlled by the AllowUserTranslation setting in the Teams messaging policy assigned to their account. If the setting is $True (the default), translation is available. To check the translation setting across all policies, connect to Teams with PowerShell and run this command:

Get-CsTeamsMessagingPolicy | Format-Table Identity, AllowUserTranslation

Identity                                    AllowUserTranslation
--------                                    --------------------
Global                                                      True
Tag:Advanced                                                True
Tag:Advanced Users                                          True
Tag:Restricted - No Chat                                   False

To update a messaging policy with PowerShell, run the Set-CsTeamsMessagingPolicy cmdlet. For example:

Set-CsTeamsMessagingPolicy -Identity "Restricted - No Chat" -AllowUserTranslation $True

You can also update the allow translation setting in messaging policies through the Teams admin center, where the setting is called Allow users to translate messages. Remember that disabling translation in a messaging policy affects all users covered by that policy.

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