How to use the Google Translate app


Until we discover Douglas Adam’s Babel fish, a small creature you can slip into your ear which translates any language, we’re stuck with less convenient methods. Thankfully, the days of flicking through a dictionary are long gone. With your smartphone and the Google Translate app, you can type in anything and have it translated to another language. You can also use your camera to photograph text on signs or in newspapers and have the app translate it. Best of all, you can speak aloud into the microphone for a translation or have someone else speak into it and the app will tell you what they are saying.

The limitations

2013-02-20 14.01.03Before we delve into using the Google Translate app it’s worth mentioning that there are a few limitations. For starters the Android version is the only one that does everything. In case you’re wondering, everything includes:

  • Language Translations
  • Dictionary results
  • Read foreign scripts
  • Text-to-speech
  • Voice input
  • Starring and history
  • Conversation mode

The iPhone version ticks all the same boxes except for conversation mode, but the BlackBerry, Nokia or S60, and Windows Phone apps only cover a small subset of the features.

There are lots of supported languages. We counted over 60 in our Android app, but some of the features like text-to-speech and full dictionaries are only available for around 30 of those languages.

Finally, the big limitation and potential deal-breaker for some people is the fact that the Google Translate app only works when you are online. It is basically an interface that plugs into Google’s servers and so you need a mobile data or Wi-Fi connection to use it. The only caveat is the fact you can tap the drop down menu at the top of the main screen where it says Translate by default and change it to History or Favorites. That gives you access to all of the translations you’ve completed previously, so with some preparation, the app can still be useful with no internet access. Once you have a long history, you might prefer to use the Favorites. You can add translations to your Favorites by tapping the small star at the top right and it will turn yellow to confirm that the entry has been added.

How to translate

2013-02-20 12.51.11The app is fairly straightforward to use and it defaults to the translate screen. At the top there’s a drop down menu where you can switch between Translate, Conversation, History, and Favorites. Just below that you have your languages. On the left is the language you are translating from and on the right the language you are translating to. The app will attempt to identify your recently used languages automatically, but you just tap the language to get a big drop down list of possible choices. To make it faster the next time you use it, your recently used languages remain at the top of the list.

Once you have selected the languages you want, you can tap on the line at the bottom of the screen to bring the virtual keyboard up and type in the word or phrase that you would like to translate. The app will translate it as you type. It might suggest another phrase if it thinks you have mistyped and you can just tap that if it is what you were looking for.

With every translation, the app returns you have three icons beneath the translated text. You can choose to copy it to your clipboard and paste it elsewhere, share it via email or social media, or expand it to study it more closely. You can also tap the star at the top right to store it in your favorites.

You’ll also see a small speaker icon at the left hand side of every translation. Tap it and your device will speak the translation aloud. This can be incredibly useful when you are unsure of pronunciations. If you don’t have the speak aloud, text-to-speech option then you may need to install Google’s TTS app. On Android, you should also go into Settings > Language and input > Text-to-speech output and make sure that Google Text-to-speech Engine is selected.

Speech, handwriting, and images

You’ll also notice three icons at the bottom of the screen and they allow you to translate speech, handwriting, and text in the physical world around you via the camera.

If you tap the microphone, you’ll be prompted to utter the phrase you want to translate. You’ll see a circle expand around the red microphone icon to indicate that the microphone is picking up your speech and you should see a translation on screen a moment later.

If you tap the pencil icon, a panel pop up where you can try handwriting whatever you want translated. Be warned, though, this doesn’t work well for every language and much will depend on how neat and legible your script is.

If you want to translate a sign or something on a menu then you can tap the camera icon to take a photograph of the text. You’ll then be asked to highlight the exact text you want to translate with your finger and the app will go ahead and translate it for you.

Conversation mode

2013-02-20 14.15.13If you are talking to someone and you don’t share a language then you should tap Translate at the top and switch into Conversation mode. At the bottom you’ll see a microphone symbol next to each language and you can take it in turns to speak and watch the app translate your speech and talk aloud to your companion in their own language. Be warned, though, the voice recognition doesn’t play well with every accent (as you can see from the screenshot it doesn’t like my Scottish brogue), but you do get the chance to acknowledge or tweak what the app thinks you said before it talks aloud.

That’s how to use the Google Translate app. If you’ve got any questions or suggestions for getting the best out of it then please post a comment.


Here’s how to take a screenshot on an iPad, step by step

The ability to capture screenshots may not be the iPad's most glamorous feature, but it's one of its most useful. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to take a screenshot on an iPad, whether it's an iPad Pro from 2018 or an older iPad model.
Social Media

Spice up your Instagram videos by adding your top tunes to the soundtrack

Have you ever taken a beautiful video, only to have it ruined by some jerk in the background yelling curse words? Here's a list of apps you can use to add your own music to Instagram posts as well as your Story.

Delete tracking cookies from your system by following these quick steps

Cookies are useful when it comes to saving your login credentials and other data, but they can also be used by advertisers to track your browsing habits across multiple sites. Here's how to clear cookies in the major browsers.

Go hands-free in Windows 10 with speech-to-text support

Looking for the dictation, speech-to-text, and voice control options in Windows 10? Here's how to set up Speech Recognition in Windows 10 and use it to go hands-free in a variety of different tasks and applications within Windows.

Learn how to play YouTube in the background on iOS and Android

We show you how to play YouTube in the background with apps such as Opera, Chrome, and Firefox -- along with the premium offerings like YouTube Premium -- whether you have an Android or iOS device.

Play your games whenever you want with a MicroSD card for your Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch uses cartridge-based games, but its internal storage may fill up quicker than you would think. Here's what you should consider when picking out a MicroSD card to expand your Switch's storage capacity.
Home Theater

Want to mirror your smartphone or tablet onto your TV? Here's how

A vast arsenal of devices exists to allow sending anything on your mobile device to your TV. Our in-depth guide shows you how to mirror content from your smartphone or tablet to the big screen from virtually any device available.

Keep your laptop battery in tip-top condition with these handy tips

Learn how to care for your laptop's battery, how it works, and what you can do to make sure yours last for years and retains its charge. Check out our handy guide for valuable tips, no matter what type of laptop you have.

How to jailbreak your iPhone on iOS 12: A beginner’s guide

The latest jailbreaking tools for iOS 12 make freeing your iOS device easier than ever. This guide will teach you how to jailbreak your iPhone or iPad, and explain what jailbreaking will do for you.

Sharing your best gameplay moments is quick and easy on the Xbox One

The current generation of consoles make it easier than ever to share your gaming highlights with the world. Here's a quick guide on how you can record a gameplay video on Xbox One.
Social Media

Here’s how to save someone’s Instagram Story to your phone

Curious about how to save someone's Instagram Story to your phone? Lucky for you, it can be done -- but it does take a few extra steps. Here's what you need to know to save Instagram Stories on both iOS and Android.

Stop dragging windows on your Mac. Here's how to use Split View to multitask

The latest iterations of MacOS offer a native Split View feature that can automatically divide screen space between two applications. Here's how to use Split View on a Mac, adjust it as needed, and how it can help out.

It's not all free money. Here's what to know before you try to mine Bitcoin

Mining Bitcoin today is harder than it used to be, but if you have enough time, money, and cheap electricity, you can still turn a profit. Here's how to get started mining Bitcoin at home and in the cloud.

Here’s how to download podcasts and listen to them on Android or iOS

Podcasts have become a cultural staple. Here's how to download podcasts and listen to them on your Android or iOS device, and which apps to use if you're looking to get the most out of the format.