Language focus | 21.09.2010

Engkoo – Microsoft’s Chinese-English translation and language learning software

EngkooEngkoo is Microsoft’s web-based language learning and machine translation service. Launched in 2009, it is a free resource aimed at helping Mandarin Chinese speakers to learn English. It also doubles up as a translation tool with a range of features including a Chinese / English dictionary; downloadable audio and video files; bilingual Chinese-English text comparison; text-to-speech software and a phonetic search facility allowing users to find fuzzy matches. This online linguistic resource is one of the finalists in the prestigious Wall Street Journal’s 2010 Innovation Award – the winners of which are to be announced at a prize giving ceremony on 26 October 2010.

Engkoo uses web-mining technology to extensively search the internet for suitable bilingual content and like the online translation tool ‘Linguee’, the web-crawling process concentrates on professionally translated texts, such as those from the United Nations or multilingual news sites. This enables the software to provide bilingual Chinese-English comparison tables and as the source is cited, it also allows a credibility rating to be assigned to the translation. To date, Engkoo contains more than 10 million cross-referenced terms and receives more than 4 million hits per month.

Other useful services include the mouse-over and collocation features. The former allows users to hover over specific words in the source language text and in turn, the corresponding word(s) are highlighted in the target text. For the latter, this employs ‘part-of-speech wild cards’. Microsoft Research explains: ‘Users can find prepositions that typically follow the word “terrific” by simply searching for “terrific prep”. In this example, they could find sentences such as “I think it looks terrific on you”’.

As for fuzzy matches, users can carry out searches based on the phonetics of a word and how it is typically spoken by a language learner. For example, entering “shampin” into the software would bring up “champagne”.

Engkoo also makes full use of audio and visual components with its text-to-speech software and video option. Inputted text is output in an audio format that is also available as an MP3 download. The aim here is for the audio output to sound natural and to follow the intonation and stress patterns of the target language. Microsoft Research has reported that this is one of the most popular features. To provide learners with further help in regards to correct pronunciation, there are plans to include animated videos displaying the position of the tongue, for example, when pronouncing the word.

Slang and idiomatic expressions are also included in the ever-expanding database, and there is also talk of adding Japanese as an available language and mobile apps for people on the move.

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Engadget,, Microsoft Research,,

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