No Language Skills, No Problem. There’s an App… Google Translate…

     We’ve come a long way since the days of a bringing a language phrase book and stuttering our way through some National Lampoon tragedy. Google Translate’s app is incredible for several reasons…

  1. You can hold your camera up to a sign and it will instantly translate what you are looking at (Real Time).
  2. You don’t necessarily need WiFi to use it.
  3. It also translates voice recordings.
  4. It’s so easy to use (some would say… too easy)


So How Does it Work?

      Step one… download the app. Too easy, right? Next download the language of the country you are traveling to. My first experience with the Google Translate app was in Cartagena Colombia. I knew that I would be in and out of WiFi access so I made sure I had the basic download, though I found it to be slightly more accurate when I was within WiFi range. If your smartphone is within range of the internet, you do not need to worry about downloading a language (though it really doesn’t take up much space of your phone anyway).


When to Use it.

      Let’s say you’re want to read directions, or a menu (trying to avoid the tongue platter) you’ve got two choices. You can simply put the app in camera mode and view directly. Google Translate works in real time. You can watch the words transition from the foreign language into your familiar one. It’s like shining a light on what you want to read. I think this mode works best when you are trying to read a lot and can’t really get everything in the screen at one time (like at a historical plaque).


Above Example of the Original

Below is the real time and scanned translations (a little shaky, possibly because of the font and marble work)

Below is a stronger example of translation, when the script and type is better set

      However, if you have a bit of a shaky hand and you can get everything in one shot, simply snap a photo. From there, the app can access your camera roll and translate just fine. It’s important to remember (and reasonable) it’s going to translate the words and sometimes falls short in grammar correctness. Depending on the language, syntax changes so you shouldn’t rely on this app to pass your Spanish 3 exam. Considering you had no idea what it said beforehand, this shouldn’t be too big of a problem.

      But wait! You don’t understand the taxi driver and you think you want to stop in two blocks! No problem, the app can also access your smartphone microphone. Keep the sentences simple, slow and again, you’re out of a bind. It will type and speak what you say (helping with pronunciation). I wouldn’t use this tool for religious or political discussions but then again ask yourself… If you did need an app that strong, how did you get into that situation in the first place?

Above is an example of voice command translate and classic type translate

     If all else fails, you can simply use the type function. Type your words, translate and show them what you are asking for or saying. In turn, they can type on your phone and respond. And if you are trying to speak with someone you don’t trust with your phone… maybe you shouldn’t be talking to them (this is not a hostage negotiation app).

     If you are a travel guerilla or simply getting out of town for the weekend, I strongly encourage you to memorize a few lines at the minimum (effort goes further than you think around the world). Sometimes, your in a tight spot and Farsi, Georgian, and Cantonese are a little tough (I agree). Google Translate has you covered. The best part… it’s only going to get better. Google Translate isn’t a book or a CD. It’s going to get stronger all the time and should be an essential tool in your travel kit bag.

Choose Your Words Carefully and Have Good Travels

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