Google’s App Now Translates as You Talk

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Google just rolled out a new update for users of its translation app for Android phones. But this isn’t just any software update: the upgraded app now has a “conversation mode” feature that translates as you talk!

For example, let’s say you’re grocery shopping in Mexico. Suddenly, you find you’ve blanked out on your high school Spanish and can’t remember how to order what you want from the deli. With Conversation Mode, you could press a button, ask for what you want in English, and have your phone translate it into Spanish and read the translation to the salesperson. Then, the salesperson could answer back in Spanish, and the app would translate it into English. No more quizzical looks, no more hanging your head in shame at not being able to make yourself understood. Brilliant!

While the Google blog calls Conversation Mode “an experimental feature that’s still in its earliest stages,” the announcement has quite rightly set the news media on fire. Online magazine The Escapist even went so far as to say “We may never have to learn a foreign language again.”

Well, not so fast. This app will undoubtedly be quite helpful travelers, but there are a few caveats. First of all, it’s machine translation, so it might not be entirely accurate. If you’re trying to do business overseas, best to either learn the language yourself or invest in a professional interpreter to make sure that your meaning comes through as you intend it to.

Second, the app won’t work unless your phone has a data connection. That means that if you don’t have a signal or access to Wi-Fi, you’re out of luck. Also, unless you’re using Wi-Fi, you should keep an eye on how much data you use so you don’t get stuck with an obscene cell phone bill when you get home.

Right now, conversation mode is only available in English and Spanish. Google plans to refine the feature further and add new languages as they become available. While it’s no substitute for a professional interpreter or translation services, it’s definitely a useful tool to have if you’re in a Spanish-speaking country!