Google Translation App

Yesterday, Google announced major updates to its translation app that will allow users to carry on a conversation in two different languages.  The app allows users to select the two languages they’re working with, and then once the app is in conversation mode, it will take care of the rest, so that the users can have a more spontaneous and fluid conversation.  Google says that their “instant translation” update will be able to handle translation from English to and from French, German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish, helping to dissolve the language barrier for travelers.

Nelson Lewis Interpreter

If this Google technology is everything it’s saying it is, then interpreters could soon be unnecessary.

Even in areas without any data connection or Internet service, the app is still operational in camera mode.  Snap a photo of the text you want translated, and Google will provide a translation into three-dozen different languages.  And earlier last month, Skype unveiled a preview of a similar service in English and Spanish that would allow users to converse in real-time.  Skype, which is owned by Microsoft, said that its long-term goal for speech translation is to translate as many languages as possible on as many platforms.

For a long time, online translators have been of a significantly low quality.  While they’re very good at figuring out the general idea of a sentence or paragraph, they more often than not miss various nuances, and something that sounds right in one language can sound completely bizarre in another.  Anybody who speaks a foreign language fluently knows just how online translators can butcher something in another language.  While online translators have gone a long way over the years, they’re still not perfect.  I wonder, therefore, how a live-time translation app will work, and how good the translations will be.  I also wonder if this app will eventually choose to focus on less common languages which, as the world becomes more and more globalized, could become unnecessary.  Potentially, this app could have a major effect on foreign languages as we know them.