Google Translate App with Conversation Mode – Review and Report

By Paul Riegler on 16 January 2015
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Google recently announced an update to its Translate app that gives it the ability to support a real-time conversation in two languages with little delay. The “conversation mode” feature acts as a near-real-time translator, somewhat reminiscent of Star Trek’s universal translator.

Using the app is simple. Translation mode supports spoken input, typed input, or handwriting. To test its functionality, I simply selected the two languages for the conversation and used the app with all three input methods.

The translation is also available as synthesized speech by pressing the speaker icon.

I mostly tested using languages I know, English, French, German, and found that the translations were reasonably accurate, although often not something a native speaker would have said. In any event, the translated text would get the point across.

In addition to English, the Conversation Mode supports Arabic, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.

The app did make minor mistakes. For example, I asked it to translate “Can you recommend a good Italian restaurant not far from my hotel, please?” and it displayed “Können Sie ein gutes italienisches Restaurant, nicht weit von meinem Hotel empfehlen Sie?”, adding a second and incorrect “Sie” (the polite form of “you”) at the very end of the question as well as an extra and incorrect comma in the middle.

Another very useful feature is a mode that enlarges the translated text. To access it, I rotated my iPhone 6 Plus to landscape mode, and the text appeared as large white text on a blue background, making it very clear when showing the translation.

In addition, Google added what it calls a “camera mode” translation feature to the iOS version of the app, and is updating the Android version’s photo translation feature as well. Simply take a picture of a sign or other text from within the app, and the app will translate it. This feature supports 36 languages.

A related feature, Word Lens, allows the traveler to point his phone’s camera to a sign or text, capture it, and the Translate app will translate the text, even without a data connection (other functionality in the app requires connectivity). This feature only translates words into English from French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish, and from English into those languages as well.

Using this feature was simple: all I had to do was photograph a sign or menu, and the app superimposed the translated text on the original image when I touched my finger on a specific word.


While not perfect, the Google Translate app with conversation mode is by far one of the best translation tools I’ve seen and that it’s free and only takes up 24 MB of space on your iPhone is an added bonus. Don’t leave home without it.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)


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