Skip to main content

I talked to Google Translate in three languages and it knew what I meant

One of the most distressing things about being American is the inability to understand or speak more than one language. Anyone who travels runs into language barriers at every turn. Menus, signs, maps, and food products are all written in the foreign language, and in certain countries, it can be hard to find an English speaker to translate for you. It’s stressful! Luckily, Google has been working to solve this problem. In fact, the latest version of Google Translate makes it easier than ever to be monolingual.

I tested out the latest version of Translate on an Android phone and was amazed with the results. Not only could Google translate photographed text with nearly perfect accuracy, but it also understood me when I spoke to it in three different foreign languages. That’s right — three. I tried Spanish, German, and Swedish on Google Translate, and it not only understood me (slight American accent and all), but translated what I said fairly accurately — most of the time.

Here’s how it works.

Snap a picture of a menu to know what you’re eating

Image used with permission by copyright holder

When you download the latest version of Google Translate, you’ll see the standard option to type text into the field, but you’ll also see a new camera icon and an option to speak as well. You can tap on the photo icon to take pictures of signs, menus, and other texts that are written in a different language. You have to select the language first, though, so if you don’t know if you’re looking at Chinese or Korean characters, you’re out of luck. Regardless, as long as you know the language, you simply select it, take the photo, and Google will scan it for text in that language. Once it’s found the text, you highlight the part you want to translate and Google figures it out.

It’s like magic. I Googled signs in German and Spanish, and threw in a Swedish milk carton for good measure, and Google translated all three effortlessly. Sure, some of the grammar was off — It thought “Atencion, hombres trabajando arriba,” meant “Attention, men working up,” when it really means, “Attention, men working above” — but it sure was close. Google handled the Swedish milk carton really well, and even translated the fat content of the milk.

Google Translate can also handle handwritten text sometimes, if you write in block letters and really, really neatly. Lowercase letters didn’t seem to work, and sometimes Google didn’t register our handwriting as foreign text, so no translation was available.

Talk to Google — It will understand you

The text translation was pretty impressive, as was the voice translation, though it had trouble with longer texts. This is a common failing with translation apps in general, as longer texts follow more complex grammar. Even so, reading a short passage in German to Google resulted in a pretty close translation. Only a few words were wrong, and the expected issues with word order appeared (German word order is quite different from English).

Regardless, you could use the app to ask for directions quite easily. Google will even play back the translated text for the other person to hear. The next time you travel abroad to a country whose language you don’t speak, you can simply whip out your phone and snap a picture of the dessert menu, or press the mic button to record a native speaker’s directions to the Van Gogh Museum.

Google Translate may not have it down perfectly yet, but it’s pretty damn close.

Editors' Recommendations

Malarie Gokey
Former Digital Trends Contributor
As DT's Mobile Editor, Malarie runs the Mobile and Wearables sections, which cover smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and…
Google Pixel 8 vs. iPhone 15: did Google finally beat Apple?
A rose Google Pixel 8 (left) held in hand with a green iPhone 15.

Google unveiled the Google Pixel 8 lineup at its October Made by Google event in New York. Though there aren’t any drastic upgrades to the Pixel 8, Google made some smaller changes that are sure to be welcome among fans.

But Apple also released the iPhone 15 lineup in September — and it's one of the Pixel 8's biggest competitors. If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, which one should you pick up? The Pixel 8 and iPhone 15 are both the baseline models for Google and Apple, respectively, so let’s take a closer look at these two phones.

Read more
Google Pixel 8 Pro vs. iPhone 15 Pro: which $1,000 phone should you buy?
A Google Pixel 8 Pro in Porcelain (left) with an iPhone 15 Pro in Blue Titanium held in hand.


It’s an exciting season for premium smartphones. Apple has unveiled its iPhone 15 Pro with a sleek new titanium finish and ultra-powerful A17 Pro chip. Now, Google has followed that up with its new flagship Google Pixel 8 Pro, packing in a new Tensor G3  processor, an improved camera system, and a wealth of fun new machine-learning-powered features.

Read more
Google is killing your passwords, and security experts are (mostly) happy
Logging into a Google account with passkeys on an iPhone.

Google is inching closer to making passwords obsolete. The solution is called "Passkeys," a unique form of password that is stored locally on your phone or PC, just the way a physical security key works. The passkeys are protected behind a layer of authentication, which can be your fingerprint or face scan — or just an on-screen pattern or PIN.

Passkeys are faster, linked across platforms, and save you the hassle of remembering passwords for websites or services that you have subscribed to. There is a smaller scope for human error, and the risks of 2-factor authentication code interception are also reduced.

Read more