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.


The OnePlus 7 Pro helps you chill out and ignore notifications for 20 minutes

Sometimes you need to get away from distractions. If you really need to remove temptation, then the OnePlus 7 Pro's new Zen Mode will lock you out of your phone for 20 minutes whenever you need a break.

Did someone give you a Google Play gift card? Here's how to use it

When you apply the card to your Google Play account it adds to your balance so you can buy music, movies, and other digital content found in the Google Play Store. Here's how to use a Google Play gift card.

If your iPad screen is cracked or shattered, here's how to get it fixed

Your iPad is a delicate piece of equipment and even if you handle it carefully accidents can happen. We weigh the pros, cons, and costs of Apple extended warranties, third-party repairs, and even do-it-yourself solutions to guide you.
Social Media

6 easy ways to archive all of your favorite Instagram videos

Saving Instagram videos should be just as easy as taking a screenshot. So, we've put together a list of the best apps and tools that save your favorite Instagram videos onto your phone or computer.
Movies & TV

Ditch the torrents! How to legally watch Game of Thrones online

Game of Thrones is about to end, but unless you're a cable subscriber, finding a way to watch isn't always easy. Check out our guide on how to watch online, whether you prefer using HBO, Hulu, or Amazon.

Here's where Xur is and what he has for wares this week in Destiny 2: Forsaken

The weekly vendor in Destiny 2: Forsaken always brings Exotic weapons and armor, some of the toughest loot to find in the game. Here's everything you need to know to track down Xur: Where he is, when he shows up, and what he's stocking.

How to use recovery mode to fix your Android phone or tablet

If you’re having a problem you can’t seem to resolve with your Android device, or maybe you want to update it or wipe the cache, recovery mode could be what you’re looking for. Here's how to get your Android phone into recovery mode.
Smart Home

No handyman skills? No problem. Learn how to install a Ring Doorbell here

While removing your old doorbell and installing a new one may seem intimidating. Don't be concerned about your handyman skills. The Ring Video Doorbell 2 has a streamlined installation process that anyone can do in under 30 minutes.
Home Theater

How to wall mount a TV: Tips and tricks to cut down on frustration

This how-to guide includes a video on how to wall mount a TV, along with other tips and tricks about the process. Step by step, we'll take you through what you have to do to successfully get your TV on your wall.
Home Theater

Game of Thrones is over -- here's how to cancel your HBO subscription

Game of Thrones is over, and, for some die-hard fans disappointed with the finale, so is their connection to HBO. Here's how to cancel your subscription, whether you use HBO Now, or have subscribed through your cable provider.
Home Theater

Plex is free and easy, and you'll wonder how you survived without it

If you want a Netflix-like experience for the media you already own, you need Plex. It's the free media center software that automatically catalogs and plays your movies, music, photos, and more, on your TV. Here's how to use it.

What is ISO? A camera's sensitivity to light -- and how to use it -- explained

Curious what ISO is and how it affects your photos? Here's everything you need to know about the fundamental camera setting, including how it impacts exposure and how to properly adjust it for certain scenarios.

The May 2019 update for Windows 10 is live. Here’s how to get your hands on it

Launched this week, Microsoft's May 2019 update for Windows 10 releases a slew of new features, primarily simple and powerful security tools, for home and enterprise users. You can get your hands on these tools by installing the new update…
Smart Home

Selling or trading in an Echo Dot? Here's how to factory reset your device

Need to get rid of an old Echo Dot? If you no longer need your Dot, or you're swapping it out for another product, don’t throw it away. This guide includes info on the trade-in or sale value of your old Dot.