Google Translate: What is it and how can it make your holiday even better?

Google’s genius translation app can translate text and speech to and from English, read menus and road signs.

Whether it’s merited or not, we Brits have a reputation around the world for expecting everyone to communicate with us in English. Some of us try harder than others by doing some research before our holiday or by buying a phrasebook. Others simply preface words with “el” or add an “o” to the end of beer, Derek Trotter-style, and it works out just fine.

However, before you open your wallet and resort to the same lazy tactics, you should know you already have access to the world’s most powerful translation tool in your pocket - Google Translate.

[Read more: Google Translate turns your smartphone into a portable translator]

What is Google Translate?

Google Translate app is a free application for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets.

The app’s 500 million users are able to translate between up to 103 languages in a number of ways. You can type words and sentences, speak them to the device by tapping the microphone, or even use your finger to handwrite. The latter may be handy if you’re attempting to replicate something like Chinese characters that don’t appear on your keyboard.

How do I get Google Translate?

iOS users can find it within the App Store on their phone or tablet. Android users can discover it on the Play Store. Simply type Google Translate in the search field or follow these links (Android/Apple) to download.

How do I change languages?

When you open the app you’ll see two languages at the top of the display; the origin tongue and the desired translation. You can tap either to change it.

Google Translate


However, if you’re travelling to, for example, Spain, it is likely you’ll need to translate the language in both directions (English-Spanish, Spanish-English) at some point. You can switch this up by tapping the arrows in the centre of the screen.

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How does Google Translate use my phone’s camera?

Google Translate’s Word Lens feature, which works in 30 languages, allows you to translate text in real time just by pointing your phone’s camera at it. We tried it with French to English using a warning sign. 

google translate

If you tap the camera icon a new interface will open. Now you can focus on a restaurant menu or a road sign and see that text in English.

If you want to save that translation you can click the star icon to store it in your Saved folder.

Can it be used for conversations?

It’s a cliché, but having Google Translate is like walking around with your own personal translator, a go-between to smash through the language barrier. The speech-to-text feature, accessed via the microphone (picture 1), can help you inform a native speaker what you mean.

Pass the phone to them and they’ll be able to speak in their native tongue and it’ll be translated back to English.

How can I use translated text?

Once you’ve typed, penned or spoken your desired translation, it’ll be offered to you in written form, highlighted in a blue box. However, there are several other things you can do with it:

  1. Audio:  Tap the audio icon to hear the translation in the chosen tongue. This is handy to help you with pronunciation or to play for a native speaker.
  2. Favourite: Your translation history will appear on the home screen, but you can tap the star to add any translations to the favourites tab for easy access.
  3. Share: Take the translation and open the result in another app such as messaging or email.
  4. Expand: Tap here to make the written translation full screen, perfect for showing to a local assisting you with directions.
  5. Copy: This takes the translation and allows you to paste it into another app.
  6. Expand: This makes the translation full screen.  

[Read more: How to prepare your smartphone for a holiday]

Can I use Translate offline?

You can also download 52 dictionaries (including Welsh) for text translations without an internet connection, which means you don’t have to use data abroad.

Google Translate offline

To add languages: head to Settings - Offline Translations and then tap ‘+’ to browse the list of available languages.

This will take up a little storage on your phone (only around 25-30MB), but you will then be able to translate text without a data connection.

Tip: To improve speech recognition, enter Settings - Speech Input - English Input and make sure English (UK) is selected.


Can I use Google Translate in other apps?

Above, we’ve mentioned ways to share translations with other apps by copying and pasting translations. However for Android users, Translate is now available on Google Chrome. All users need to do is highlight the text and the option to translate will appear.

Find out more about using Google Translate in the video below:

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