Just a few years ago, a demo video of a translation app which used a smartphone’s camera to live-translate text in other languages went around and seemed like something out of science fiction.
Of course, a lot of what our phones do is way beyond what was imagined in the early days of Star Trek (admittedly, scanning an arbitrary area for life signs and specific minerals is still restricted to niche augmented reality games…).
But that live translation capacity right at your fingertips? That still seemed pretty far-out the first time we tried it, and yet it’s free on Google Play and the App Store.
While we’ve made progress learning Japanese – which is actually pretty approachable to pick up, so far! – learning the written text is decidedly more complex. The fact that Japanese uses three alphabets doesn’t help – two have 46 characters each (same sounds, but drawn very differently). The last has thousands. So…
If you haven’t used it, Google Translate uses your phone camera like a QR code scanner – just line up some unfamiliar text, pick the language of choice, and boom – it displays the translated version in English (or your other language of choice) on your screen.
We expect it will make everything from menus to train schedules a lot easier to digest!
It also works in reverse – if you’re struggling to communicate with someone, you can just write something down on a notepad in English and use the app to translate it for them. A friend of Caitlin’s used this to great effect when she traveled in Japan herself.
Happily, Google Translate is available for both Android and iOS – so regardless of your allegiance, this handy tool is available.
One tip – make sure you download the offline translation package so you’re not burning through your data abroad. For the flexibility it gives the file size is tiny.
Lastly, Google Translate is also available for Android Wear. Without a camera on the phone, it’s functionality is obviously different – but still really handy. Speak into it in English and it’ll display the Japanese translation of what you just said – handy for communicating quickly without needing to dig your phone out!