Google Translate Steps up Its Game – Is It Enough?

While Google is no stranger to the translation application game, its newest updates help ensure that it remains at the top of the list for offered features and usability. Google Translate was updated very recently with two new features: it translates street signs and other images just by pointing your phone’s camera at the image (this feature is even available without a mobile data connection), and its conversation mode was updated to include automatic language detection, improving the flow of conversation between the individuals using it.

These features are not completely new to the application, but both have made significant improvements. In previous versions, the image translation software needed an Internet/data connection, and required the user to upload an actual photo of the image or sign. Google is now using Word Lens technology to instantly translate it just by pointing your camera at the image, no Internet connection or photo storage required. This feature is available in seven languages, but Google hopes to expand this list soon. Currently available: English ↔ French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. For users who do not have an international data plan, this is especially convenient, allowing the user to retrieve the translations in real time without running up data roaming charges on the phone bill. Google Translate’s conversation feature is also improving. Previous versions required the users to manually select the language between each use. However, this version automatically detects the spoken language during the conversation, which improves the fluidity of the conversation. Participants are now able to speak more freely with limited interruptions/delays from the application. This feature is currently available in 38 languages, with plans to add more. While Google Translate’s updates are certainly impressive, don’t expect it to replace human translation anytime soon. Reviewers agree that the application is certainly moving in the right direction, but it is not without error. Conor Dougherty with the New York Times agrees that it works fairly well, but that having to transfer the phone between two people speaking can be somewhat awkward, and says that it works best when the speakers use short, jargon-free sentences. Paul Reigler from the Frequent Business Traveler mentions that the app is easy to use and got the main message across, but indicated that the translations themselves were “reasonably accurate, although often not something a native speaker would have said”. While it seems as though Google’s updates are taking on-the-fly machine translation to the next level with its Word Lens technology and improved conversation features, professional translations should still be done by professional, human translators. While travelling abroad, however, Google Translate may certainly help you get around the city by translating maps and road signs and assisting you with asking a local for directions. It certainly seems worth the download, but take each automatic translation with a grain of salt!