Google Translate is a must-have travel app, and now it just got better

By Brandon Loo, July 12 2019

Business travellers will know first-hand the struggles of deciphering a foreign language when overseas. Many apps aim to make this easier, including Google Translate, which is rolling out some improvements to its 'instant camera translation' feature.

If you haven't already discovered Google Translate, or experimented with its camera translation capabilities, put this free app on your list.

Yes, you can manually type in a phrase for translation – although it's laborious, you'll probably make some mistakes when dealing with unfamiliar words, and then how do you cope with Asian languages packed with non-Western characters?

Instead, just point your smartphone's camera at some words and watch the magic happen as an English translation pops-up almost straight away.

I used Google Translate on a recent trip to Japan, where it proved indispensable from dealing with local medicines when I was under the weather (left) to deciphering a restaurant kiosk booking screen (right).

The translations aren't perfect, but are more than sufficient to get the key messages across

Google's latest update doubles down on the functionality, beginning with auto-detection of languages as well as more source languages, including many in the Asia-Pacific region such as Vietnamese and Māori, for a total of 88 languages ready to be translated.

The output can now be translated into more than 100 other languages, including translations between non-English pairs such as from Japanese to Korean.

Finally, some tweaks behind-the-scenes means more accurate and natural translations with improvements of 55-85% in certain language pairs.

Most languages can be downloaded offline so you can use the camera feature without roaming internet data. However, the best results are obtained from being online.

Google Translate's instant camera feature still has three modes – 'instant' for live translations, 'scan' for taking a photo a selecting with your finger what you want to be translated, and ''import' for loading up images already in your camera roll. You can download the app from Google Play or the Apple Store.

Also read: Here are the five best translation apps for business travellers

Brandon Loo

Brandon divides his time between Perth and Launceston, with ample hours spent in airport lounges in between. He recently picked up photography and tries to capture the beauty of Tasmanian landscapes, aeroplane cabins and in-flight food, to varying degrees of success.

airADL

airADL

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 205

Great program but no good to me in China

rufusfly

rufusfly

13 May 2016

Total posts 37

Why No good in China?

airADL

airADL

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 205

Would not work for me, I assumed because of google ban.

Wouldn't even work on VPN

elchriss0

elchriss0

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2015

Total posts 578

The problem I've had in Japan is that several places write the letters vertically (whether it be in a menu or a sign or whatever) and the app can't recognise this so it ends up translating each individual character rather than the full vertical word

Brython14

Brython14

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Oct 2016

Total posts 11

If you can't use something Google in China, in the URL box instead of typing in www.google.com/.... try typing in www.elgoog.com/... Used to work when I lived in Beijing 10 years ago.

airADL

airADL

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 205

Recently even useless with VPNs, but being an app just dies.

Strangely some areas everything google works even with no VPN

Concorde1990

Concorde1990

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Nov 2018

Total posts 65

Special regions such as Shanghai allow goo

airADL

airADL

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 205

On that Concorde Inknow certain areas like near GZ airport and Shenzhen work, is there a map where goo works

Or classified info!

Concorde1990

Concorde1990

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Nov 2018

Total posts 65

Bit hit and miss. I downloaded the Simplified Chinese language portion and put my phone in airplane mode to translate outside the economic zones. But it doesn’t work too well. This is when learning a few phrases and characters is truly beneficial.

sq or qf

sq or qf

03 Feb 2018

Total posts 2

Good for travel. And sometimes the translation is accurate (I think this depends a bit on which language). But beyond that... if the language is catered for by linguee or by Collins Online Dictionary, it's more likely to give you a better translation (even if UX isn't as good).


I work as an ESL teacher. My regular class is elementary level. While we prefer to explain meaning with simple English, some of the newcomers revert to Google Translate when it gets tough.


One of my Mongolian students got herself very muddled because Google Translate gave her misleading translations.

Concorde1990

Concorde1990

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Nov 2018

Total posts 65

English isn’t an easy language to learn. It is an amalgamation of many languages and is quite dynamic.

I highly recommend Adventure of English for a better un

Concorde1990

Concorde1990

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Nov 2018

Total posts 65

This is old news. I’ve been using Google Translate for years.

Yes, Japanese 日本語 vertical is a little challenging for vertical text. A basic understanding of Japanese, means I have a bit of an advantage. If it’s vertical, take a pic, and use the highlighter feature.

I don’t go to any country without first having learned a few basic phrases. I’m not multi or bilingual but I think it’s important to try. I’m certainly not perfect and on occasion I get a few giggles. Hopefully it’s appreciated. GT is a great tool when it’s more complicated than greetings, pleasantries and numbers. Don’t forget to download the appropriate language while you have wifi.

ありがとうございました。 さようなら。

Merci. Au revoir.

Danke. Servus

谢谢。 再见。


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