Google Translate: Understand the World

Now here’s an app that could save you the embarrassment and frustration that can sometimes result from whipping out the language phrasebook in a foreign country. Instead of stitching together a poorly constructed sentence, or misunderstanding someone else’s message entirely, you can use the Google Translate app to ensure you understand — and are understandable.

Able to translate between 57 different languages, Google Translate can decipher phrases by voice recognition as you speak, or by text as you type. The app can also vocalize your translations, providing you, or whoever you’re trying to communicate with, the opportunity to hear the language spoken. Plus, translations can be displayed in full screen mode, making it easier for others to read, and can even be starred for future reference — even if you’re offline. Let’s take a closer look.

Translating Text

On the Home tab, click each of the language buttons at the top of the screen to choose the languages you want to translate from and to.

Click the language buttons to choose the languages you want to translate from and to.

Click the language buttons to choose the languages you want to translate from and to.

Now, click on the text field, which makes the keyboard appear, and type in or paste the language you’d like translated. Then click Go.

Clicking on the text field calls up the keyboard so you can type or paste in text.

Clicking on the text field calls up the keyboard so you can type or paste in text.

The translated text appears in the bottom portion of the screen. Turn your phone horizontal or click on the “enlarge” icon (a square with four arrows) on the right side of the screen to enlarge the translated text. This function is handy if you’re trying to communicate with other people by showing them the screen in order to quickly get your message across.

Turn your phone horizontal or click on the “enlarge” icon to make the translated text bigger.

Turn your phone horizontal or click on the “enlarge” icon to make the translated text bigger.

Translating Audio

In addition to text, the app can translate audio nearly just as accurately. To translate spoken words, you must first know which language you will be translating from, and which language you will be translating to. Make these selections using the language buttons on the Home tab. Languages with translate-by-voice support have a microphone icon in front of the language name in the Translate From selection screen.

When you stop speaking, the app transcribes the text and provides the translation.

When you stop speaking, the app transcribes the text and provides the translation.

Click on the microphone icon to the right of the text field. The app then calls up a black screen with a “Speak Now” directive. Then say, or have someone else say, the words that you wish to have translated. When you stop speaking, Google Translate transcribes the text, which then automatically appears in the text field for you, and the translation appears in the lower half of the screen, just as if you had completed the translation by inputting the text in the text field manually.

Other Features

When a translation is displayed, if there is a speaker icon displayed on the righthand side, it means this language is supported by the text-to-speech synthesizer. Click the speaker icon and the app will vocalize the translated phrase for you. You could use this feature to listen to and then repeat a phrase for someone you’re trying to communicate with, or you could just hold your iPhone up for the person to listen directly.

Clicking the star icon on the right side adds a translation to your starred list for easy reference at a later time. Starred translations can be accessed at any time from the Starred tab at the bottom of the screen, and can be deleted or re-ordered using the Edit button in the top righthand corner of the Starred screen.

Starred translations can be accessed from the Starred tab and can be deleted or re-ordered.

Starred translations can be accessed from the Starred tab and can be deleted or re-ordered.

If you want to translate a single phrase into more than one language, you don’t have to type or paste the words more than once. Simply use the second language button at the top of the screen to select a new language. After you make your selection, the app will automatically re-translate the text.

Recent translations will appear on the Home tab below the text input field, and the most recent will always appear at the top of the list. Clicking on any one of them will take you back to the phrase’s translation screen, but will not change the order of the recent translations on the Home tab.

Settings

The first time you use Google Translate, the app will ask you to affirm your spoken language settings, but you can always change or correct these from the Settings tab, then Voice Settings. From the Settings tab, you’ll also be able to clear your translation history, as well as access the Help section.

In the Settings tab, you'll find the Voice Settings and the Help section.

In the Settings tab, you'll find the Voice Settings and the Help section.

Conclusion

Of course, as with any translation app or software, a user can’t expect 100 percent accuracy 100 percent of the time. I speak English and German, so these were the two languages I mainly used while reviewing Google Translate; I can’t comment on the accuracy of the translations involving languages other than those.

In my experiences, the app was very straightforward and easy to use, and when I spoke English or German slowly and clearly to the app, it was able to transcribe the text from my voice with about 99-percent accuracy. When I played German or English radio, with the speakers talking at a regular volume level and speed, the transcriptions were slightly less accurate.

When all is said and done, however, I would much rather take Google Translate into a foreign language situation in place of a language dictionary or phrasebook. And if an emergency predicament arose while you were traveling abroad (stolen money, lost ID, stranded in the middle of nowhere), I have no doubt that the app could be capable of getting a person out of some very sticky situations.


Summary

Translate between more than 50 languages via both spoken and typed text — and hear the translation spoken back to you.

8