Use Google Translate with Your Smartphone Camera

 By Tracey Dowdy

 Last summer, when my daughter completed her study abroad program, I had the opportunity to travel with her throughout Spain and France. She had been studying Spanish and living with native Spanish speakers, so our adventures in Barcelona were language-barrier free. However, my French is very basic and très rouillé – very rusty.

I opened every conversation in Bordeaux and Paris with, “Excusez moi, je parle Français comme un enfant,” which translates as, “Excuse me, I speak French like a child.” This generally prompted a laugh, and we’d switch to English. However, my conversation opener wasn’t much help if I came across unfamiliar words in the train station or on a menu, two places you don’t necessarily want to go with a roll of the dice.

Thank God for Google Translate. I’ve long used it for translation in my work, but this trip showcased its diversity and ability to translate everything from handwritten notes to street signs.

A recent update to the Google Translate camera tool has added 60 additional languages for a total of 88 languages in its database. One of the best features of this update is the app’s ability to detect what language is being used. This is particularly helpful if you’re translating similar yet distinctly different languages like Spanish and Portuguese.

Here’s how to use Translate text using your phone’s camera:

  • Download the app on iTunes or the Google Play Store.
  • Tap your Camera icon, and once you’ve noted the features available, tap Continue.
  • You’ll need to give Google Translate permission to access your camera. If you have privacy concerns, you can always go in and manually change your settings when you’re not using the app.
  • Once you’ve given permission, your in-app camera will open.
  • Change the languages at the top to Detecting Language and the language you want to be your default/preferred language.
  • Point your camera at the text you want to translate.
  • If you want a still frame of the text, Tap Pause translation.
  • When you’re ready, select Continue Translation and move to the next set of text to be translated.

You can also pull up a picture from your phone’s camera roll to be translated.

  • Open the Google Translate app
  • Select the Camera icon.
  • Tap Import in the bottom right corner.
  • Select the photo.
  • Use your finger to highlight the text to be translated.
  • Alternatively, you can tap the Scan icon. This allows you to snap a picture translate with a swipe of your finger. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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