January 12, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka
Welcome to Miami, a place where English is a second language for most residents, and it’s common to be greeted in Spanish first depending on what side of town someone visits. A new feature in Google Translate, which received a UI overhaul today, can help overcome those verbal hurdles.
Google has updated its Translate Android app in order to help people conduct conversations in their respective native languages and still be able to communicate. Translate now supports Conversation mode, which allows two people to speak into the phone and to hear each other’s words spoken back in their native language. It goes something like this:
American Andrew says, “Hello, Carlos, how are you doing?” Google Translate then zips up to the cloud, translates the message, and the Android device will then use the text-to-speech engine to tell Colombian Carlos: “Hola, Carlos. Como te va?” Carlos can then respond in Spanish and Andrew will hear his reply in English.
It’s worth noting that this is an experimental feature and Google is treating Translate with the beta gloves. Only English and Spanish are currently supported, and a quick test that I conducted shows that the feature is very basic and sometimes problematic. (Translate had some trouble with verb and tense usage when translating from Spanish to English.) And that’s not even considering that the way Bolivians speak Spanish can greatly differ from the Spanish spoken by Cubans.
Even with these introductory shortcomings, it’s very promising to see this technology coming to mobile phones. Conversation Mode will benefit travelers looking to overcome language barriers, and it may help residents, too. I have a feeling this app will come in handy the next time my limited school training and many hours of watching Sabado Gigante prove to be insufficient.