Hasta la vista translation concerns1/21/2015
Tech generally comes in two flavors: useful and exciting. Microsoft Word? Useful. Microsoft’s XBox One? Exciting. But of course, just like a soft-serve machine mixes chocolate and vanilla to create delicious twist ice cream, some tech mixes the common flavors. Streaming media, social networking and text messaging are easy examples of the tech flavor twist, but others are not as easy to identify. Case in point: Google Translate.
As any foreign language student can testify, Google Translate is a godsend. With Translate converting text across 90 different languages, virtually anyone needing a quick translation can make use of the service. More than just text, users can actually speak into the website or app and it will transcribe the audio into the foreign language of choice. Most important of all, Google Translate is excellent at properly converting syntax (something many other translation services have failed at miserably).
While incredibly useful, it is beyond a stretch to call any of it exciting. Unless you’re traveling in a foreign country and using the app as an intermediary, it is almost entirely utilitarian — before today. Freshly updated for both iOS and Android devices, Google Translate can now translate text in real time via a phone’s camera.
Dubbed “Word Lens,” what sounds like science fiction is actually a technology that’s been around for a couple of years. Introduced first in 2010, Word Lens was developed by the firm Quest Visual before being acquired by Google last May. While it has taken years of refining to make the tool serviceable, today’s integration now translates many foreign languages in seconds. Currently Word Lens only live-translates seven common languages; English to and from French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Google plans to integrate more languages into the real-time image translation, but until then, Translate continues to translate text deciphered from still images.
Along with Word Lens, Translate upgraded an existing feature known as “conversation mode.” Much like the quick turnaround of Word Lens, conversation mode gives users the functionality to speak any of Translate’s 90 languages into a phone, and within minutes it audibly returns translated speech. That is exciting. Whereas the previous version of Translate required selecting both the input and output language, slowing down back-and-forth dialogues to application settings, conversation mode now automatically detects the languages being spoken on both sides of the discussion.
Before the smartphone revolution, not only were digital translation tools not accessible via mobile devices, they weren’t exceptionally accurate. Today’s Google Translate update is impressive, but there are actually a lot of excellent translate apps available for free. iTranslate, Samsung’s S Translator and Universal Translator have collectively been downloaded hundreds of millions of times, and alongside Google Translate, each has high ratings.
In the end, though, the difference between Translate and its competitors is one word that doesn’t translate: Google. Five hundred billion people use the tech giant’s translation services every month, with 1 billion translations processed every day. Beyond the app, Google has had translation features integrated into many of it services for years including search, Hangouts, the Chrome Browser and even YouTube. Speculation is that Google only beefed up Word Lens and conversation mode for iPhone due to Skype’s foray into translation services.
No matter the reason, Google Translate’s real-time transcribing is awesome. While it’s not quite a universal translator seen in practically every science fiction film produced, it will revolutionize intercultural communication — something great for foreign language students, not so great for foreign language teachers. Oh well. C’est la vie. Quick — fire up Translate to understand that. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.