Google’s Translator reveals a neat new trick

Ever since Star Trek coined the idea of a universal translator, someone has been trying to come up with something close, and while we don’t yet have a Babel fish for our eyes and ears, Google has an app with a neat new trick that gets close.

If you’ve never played with Google Translator, you’re missing out on one of Google’s software masterpieces. We’ve seen translation systems over the years from all sorts of companies, and we even remember when the old AltaVista one which was even named for the Hitchhiker’s Guide mythical fish that translated languages and is now built into Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Still, as cool as that one was, Google’s may go even further.

The latest update to Google’s Translator app includes the ability to interpret signs and printed text in real time, replacing what the sign shows by just aiming your phone’s camera at it.

For instance, if you don’t know what an appliance says in the laundry room and you’re from France vacationing in Australia, you can use Google Translator’s camera to take a gander at the text and convert it to your native tongue, as seen in the above image.

If perhaps you speak Russian and you just bought a pack of bandaids in Australia, you probably know what these are going to be used for, but just in case, here’s the translation in Russian (below).

Google’s Translator additions will work going from another language back to English, and it’s a pretty easy app to use, simply selecting the languages you’re going from to the language you want before you begin, and then pressing the camera icon.

From there, the app translates most of what we looked at, replacing the text on screen as you can see in the images above, with the translation working in English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian, with more languages expected soon.

But we don’t always have signs to scan, and so for those times when you need someone to talk to you, and you really need that babel fish in your ear, Google’s Translation app will now recognise one of the languages of someone speaking.

You might be in Paris and need a translation of someone saying something at a coffee shop. If this is you, the app can be set from French to English and the microphone pressed, with the app picking up on the language and translating much of it in real time with text on the screen.

If you need to say something in return, you can say it to the phone and it will translate it back to the other language, both in words and with a spoken voice. Easy.

Google’s additions to the Translate app should be rolling out now, with the app available for free across Android and Apple’s iOS.