Breaking through Language Barriers with Microsoft Teams

One of the big drivers for O365 adoption is the accessibility and inclusion which the tools allow. Starting from Microsoft Office we have the ability to automatically generate alt text for our images which helps with the accessibility of our content. To ensure that the entire audience, including where language is a barrier, can still read and understand our content we are able to use translation services. This is what I am going to focus on in this blog, the translation capabilities of Microsoft Teams.

Translation in Action

In multi-national organisations it is safe to say that at some point within it's operations there will be people communicating in a language which may not be their first language. That is the nature of the world, and in the past this could be a sticking point or an area of risk when messages are not fully understood.

If a user from France posts a message to a team member in China, and sends it to a co-worker in the UK, there is an obvious language difficulty here. You could be lucky and have someone fluent enough in Chinese to be able to hold a conversation, but for most it could be an issue, This is where one of those nice features in Teams will help me. With translations enabled, I can click on the ellipsis (...) of the message and click translate.
One of the options I have on here is to translate the message. This will take the message, detect what the source language is, and then translate it to the language in you local settings.
The result is that I then see a message presented to me in a language which I can understand.

The original message that I entered was "Microsoft Teams is mega cool" so as you can see there is a small amount which is lost in translation. This could have been because I was using Bing Translate to change from English to Chinese Traditional, and then using Teams to translate it back again.

The nice thing with all of this though, is that there is a huge amount of support for languages in the translator. During demo's I've used Hindi, Russian, Chinese Traditional, Greek and it handled them all. I even thought I'd throw it a curve ball and use Welsh! Teams translated it.

So this is the functionality which I want my users to take advantage of, but there's some configuration which needs to be done first. Translation is not switched on by default, therefore your Teams administrator will need to activate it within the Microsoft Teams admin center.

Enabling Translation

Message translations are available as part of the messaging policies which are applied to your organisation. Messaging policies are designed to allow you to define the settings which apply to all users or to specific groups of users, i.e. you may choose to not allow some users to delete messages, or you may choose to disallow the use of Giphies or Memes. I generally refer to that as "turning fun off" and is part of some quite indepth discussions with some of my clients. Anyway, that's for another time.
By default there is a single policy which is applied globally to the tenancy, generally I will create my own though as I don't like changing the default policies and settings which are provided by Microsoft. When I add my new policy, it will automatically be set to the same settings as the default policy, but I will now switch on the option to allow "Translate messages".
I then need to apply the policy to the users I wish to be able to use the policy, by selecting the policy and clicking Manage Users.
Once that has been applied, we need to wait for the policy to apply (allow up to 24 hours)! But once it has applied, the behaviour which we described earlier is now available to for us to use. Break down those language barriers and collaborate!


Microsoft Teams is a communication tool which will allow you to communicate where ever you are in the world. This means that our teams could be based across different countries, and therefore natively speak different languages.

Language should not be a barrier to communication, therefore Microsoft Teams allows us to type messages within our language, and another user can then use the translate functionality to translate it to theirs. No more reliance on translators, or hoping that someone has a little more than high school languages to facilitate our chat.

This functionality, however, does need some work within the Teams admin center first of all. Translation falls under the Message Policies section, and is a simple toggle switch to enable or disable it. 

As this functionality is disabled by default, I have rarely seen it turned on and therefore doesn't get exploited as much as it could. If you have a multinational team, or even a multinational organisation, then you could consider turning this on to maximise the reach of your messages.

I hope this blog was useful, and as always I welcome feedback.


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