General Travel

This New Feature of Google Translate Will Make International Travel the Easiest it Has Ever Been

One of the biggest challenges that you will face when you travel internationally is a language barrier between yourself and the locals at your destination.  After all, if you can’t communicate with the people you are interacting with when you travel, it will be very difficult to order food, check-in to your accommodations, ask for directions, pay for the things you want to buy, and basically any other activity that requires you to communicate.

In my experience, English speaking travelers, and especially we Americans, tend to rely a little too much on the people at our destination knowing enough English.  Not only is this risky because we may end up in a situation where we can’t find someone who speaks enough English, but it is also rather rude of us as travelers to put the onus on our hosts to speak our language in their country.  Not only will showing a little effort to speak in the native language at our destination help facilitate communication, but it will go a long way in expressing to your hosts your willingness and desire to learn about their culture while you are there.

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In days past, the go-to method for communicating with others in a foreign language while traveling was the trusty foreign language dictionary.  For instance, if I was planning on traveling to Spain, I would carry my English-to-Spanish language dictionary with me.  That way, when encountering a word in Spanish I didn’t know, I could easily look it up.

Not only was carrying a dictionary a clumsy method for handling translation, but it was also an incredibly slow and oftentimes inaccurate way to handle necessary translations.  Good thing for us, like most things, technology has made the process for handling translations when traveling much, much easier.  There are now a number of different phone apps with a wide array of features that you can now use to do translations when traveling.  My favorite of these apps and the best for doing translations quickly and accurately, in my opinion, is Google Translate.

New Camera Translation Functionality

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While the functionality in Google Translate has always made it very easy for travelers to translate both text and recorded voices from one language to another, there is some new functionality in Google Translate that will take the app’s travel translation game to a whole new level.  I am very excited about this new functionality, which is why I want to share it with you in this post.

With Google Translate, travelers are now able to point their camera at foreign text and have that text automatically translated into their native language.  In other words, all you have to do is point your phone’s camera at a menu, street sign, letter, or any other object with foreign text on it and you will see that text get automatically translated on your phone’s screen.

Gone are the days where you have to type or speak the text into your phone in order to do the translation.  Not only does this save you valuable time when traveling, but it also makes the translation process much more accurate and efficient because it no longer relies on the user having to type or speak the foreign text accurately.  All you have to do is point your phone and let the app do the rest.

When using Google Translate’s new camera and photo translation functionality, you have the following options:

  • Instant Translation – If you select this option, then text that you point your phone’s camera at will automatically be translated on the screen.
  • Scan Mode – If you select this option, the app will wait until you press scan before it begins the translation of any text on your screen.
  • Import Mode – With this option, you can choose to import any picture of text that you have taken from your camera roll and have it translated by Google Translate.

How it Works

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An illustration of the new image translation features in Google Translate

To further illustrate for you how this new functionality in Google Translate works and how you might use it while traveling, I have included some examples for you to review below.

Example 1 – Translating a Road Sign

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An example street sign in Spanish that I used to test the image translation

Let’s say you encounter a street sign and you need to know what it means.  Instead of having to type in the text on the street sign for translation, all you have to do with Google Translate’s new photo translation functionality is point your camera at the sign and let Google Translate automatically translate it for you.  For instance, consider the fake street sign I printed off (see above) and the translation of this sign by Google Translate (see below).

Road Sign Translated.jpg

The demo translation of the Spanish street sign in Google Translate

Notice that I have the “Instant” feature selected and I have it set to Spanish-to-English translation.  All I had to do was open the Google Translate app, select the camera feature, make sure these settings were still configured, and then watch Google Translate automatically translate the text on my screen.  If you would like to try this translation out for yourself, you can download my Demo Spanish Street Sign to translate for yourself.

Example 2 – Translating a Restaurant Menu

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A menu in Spanish that I used to test the image translation

Another great example of where the new photo translation functionality comes in handy when traveling is when you are in a restaurant and have to translate a menu that is in a foreign language.  Instead of having to either ask for the menu to be translated by your server or have to type or speak the menu items into your phone for translation, now the only thing you have to do is point your phone’s camera at the menu and let Google Translate do the translation for you automatically.  For instance, I have included an example menu above that I might want to translate if I encounter this menu when traveling.

Menu Translated.jpg

The demo translation of the Spanish language menu in Google Translate

As you can see in the photo above, all I had to do was point my phone’s camera at the menu with Google Translate open and set to the image translation feature and Google Translate did the rest of the work for me.  If I were to encounter this menu when traveling, this would make it really easy for me to review the menu and decide what I would like to order.  If you would like to try this translation out for yourself, you can download my Demo Spanish Menu to translate for yourself.

Translating Photos You Have Already Taken

While the Instant photo translation functionality in Google Translate is probably the functionality that I think I would use the most frequently while traveling, there are some occasions where it would be useful to be able to go back and translate the text in a photo that I had taken previously.

Example – Translating a Letter

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An example letter in Spanish that I used to test the image import translation feature in Google Translate

For example, let’s pretend that I received a letter that I took a photo of with my phone.  Instead of a letter, this could be a receipt from a hotel, a set of instructions or directions you were given, or any other image with foreign text that you may have photographed for posterity purposes.  Should I decide that I need the text translated, all I would have to do is open Google Translate, select the “Import” functionality, and then browse to the image I want to be translated in my phone’s camera roll.

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When the test letter was imported into Google Translate, all of the words in the letter were identified so that I could choose which word(s) I wanted to be translated.

As soon as I select the image from my phone’s camera roll, the image is imported into Google Translate and all of the text words in the image are identified and highlighted (as you can see in the image above).  I can choose to select all of the words or select individual words in the image that I would like to isolate for translation.

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The translation of the imported letter image in Google Translate.

Once I have the words that I would like translated selected, the only thing I need to do is select the languages to translate to-and-from and let Google Translate do the rest of the work.  As you can see in the image above, it saved me a whole lot of work by automatically detecting and translating the words in the phone of the letter so that I didn’t have to either type or speak the text into my phone.

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