Universal translation is the process of translating meaningful speech, gestures, and expressions from other lifeforms in order to make it understandable for the user, as well as enabling the user to respond in that same language, therefore breaking down language barriers. Universal translators are most often used by frequent travellers who often find themselves in foreign locations, although they are sometimes deployed for large gatherings of people of many different cultures and species.
There are two major types of universal translators. The earlier class of universal translators employ large databases of languages and their words in order to mechanically translate them. As they require a great deal of memory in order to keep track of many different languages and their semantic special cases, the first models of this class of universal translators are often large and clunky. Furthermore, they are completely incapable of translating unknown languages, and occasionally produce nonsensical results, especially when the semantic dialect of a language has drifted far away from its original meanings.
The major advantage of this type of translator is that they are capable of translating written text and recorded audio, unlike the later type of universal translators. However, as there are often great difficulties in developing a decent universal translator of this class, translators are often produced which instead opt to translate between two or three languages only, or to translate multiple languages into a common auxiliary language.
The later class of universal translators are able to translate almost any language spoken by most species, even if the language was previously completely unknown to the civilizations that developed the translator. As a result, they are simpler, but rely on psionic sources of language -- living beings that know the language. This means they are incapable of translating written text or prerecorded audio, unless someone who knows the language is nearby and the translator is sufficiently advanced. Being psionically-based, however, the more advanced universal translators of this class have the surprising effect of being able to translate meaningful sounds from babies and animals.
Psionically-based translators have two main functions. The primary function works by taking semantic meaning given off by the speaker's mind as they speak, and interacting with the user's brain in order to activate these semantic areas of the brain. Therefore, the foreign words immediately become intelligible to the user. Some less-advanced translators do not do this at all, or not as well, but the secondary function serves to enable the user to speak in others' langauges so they can be understood by those not wearing a universal translator. Alternatively, some wearable translators instead serve as a beacon, causing a group of people surrounding the wearer to immediately understand each other's languages, but this consumes more energy.
Often drawing from the idea of psionically-based universal translators, translator beacons send out an invisible effect that causes many species in a large area to be able to understand each other. These are often used to remove language barriers from international events such as treaty conferences or parties. In some cases, the range of a translator beacon was made to span an entire planet.