Google Translate breaks down the language barriers

February 18, 2011

Written by wukovits

I’ve been bilingual since birth, as my mother taught me Spanish as I learned English.  Since I don’t use it frequently, my Spanish is a bit rusty, so every once in a while I find the need to get a translation for a sentence or statement that eludes me.  Online, I often utilized Google Translate ( for a quick and easy tool that did what I needed.  Of course, the online tool provides translation for over 50 languages, which is quite handy for almost anyone that needs rudimentary translation between any of these languages.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that Google has an app for that. (  Of course, it’s also available for Android.

Google TranslateOn first glance, Google Translate features a simple interface, with a text box where you can type in your word or phrase to reveal the translated version in the box beneath it.  By choosing a different language, the new translation is almost immediate.  For written languages with a different (Non-Latin) set of symbols, like Cyrillic or Arabic, or even ones like Chinese that are logographic, there is a phonetic spelling underneath.  You can even hit the reverse button (between the two language selections) and have your text translate back to the language of your choice.  But spelling alone does not a proper translation make.

What really makes Google Translate shine is the audio features it incorporates.  Next to the text box where you can type your text is a little microphone icon that allows you to speak your words or phrase.  If you’ve ever used the standard Google app to perform a voice-based search for web results, the same technology is in effect, giving eerily accurate results for spoken phrases.  The coolest part is the translation:  for a good number of languages, the result can be read aloud by the app.  There’s a little speaker icon that, when pressed, features a pleasant female voice speaking the translated phrase.

The ramifications for this app during travel are incredible.  Imagine you are in a rural town in Italy and would like directions to the nearest restroom.  Your Italian-speaking skills are non-existent, so you tell your phone “Where is the nearest restroom?”  You bashfully tap a local on the shoulder and press the vocal translation, and your phone states (in a pleasant female voice) “Dove è il bagno più vicino?”  This has to be more effective than trying to pantomime a frantic need for a restroom, I would think.

The app saves your recent translations that you can also clear should it become too cluttered, I suppose.  There is also a “Starred” feature, which allows you to save your favorites, more commonly used phrases, for easy access via the “Starred” button on the bottom.  You can also expand the translated phrase to full screen, so for languages with no vocal translation, you can easily show your audience what message you are trying to convey.

With global travel for business and leisure so readily available, an app like Google Translate will become an essential part of your travel kit, allowing you to easily communicate with others in other languages.

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