Google Translate got way smarter; the app now supports 20 more languages

30 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Google Translate got way smarter; the app now supports 20 more languages.

July 30, 2015: Google has shown off its upgraded Translate app in a YouTube video, using cards with lyrics from the song “La Bamba” to show how the app can translate text in real time using a smartphone.Google has rolled out an update to its popular Translate app, adding support for 20 new languages to its visual translation tool, which can decipher text in photos and video. In fact, a video demonstration posted to YouTube yesterday proves that the translator can hack the sharp pace of the Spanish-language rock and roll song, ‘La Bamba’, which was recorded at a brisk 150bpm back in 1958.

The new languages are Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Filipino (Tagalog), Finnish, Hungarian, Indonesian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Swedish, Turkish and Ukrainian, as well as limited support for Hindi and Thai. Available for both iOS and Android, Translate doesn’t just shuffle words and phrases from one language to another—it can also literally rewrite the world around you.

The viral video shows the app running on an Android phone, clocking a cast of Google “engineers” holding up placards with portions of the lyrics, which, it has to be said, make little sense, written on them in 27 different languages, including Hindi, Bulgarian, and Thai. Photo or video translation is not available for Chinese, Japanese or Korean, though text-to-text translation and voice-to-voice translation are all supported for these languages.

Its most handy, and impressive, tool is the six-month-old instant translation feature, using the goodies from the acquired Word Lens, that lets you point your camera at something written in another language, say a sign, and it’ll translate into your language with ridiculous accuracy in almost real-time. Hold up your phone’s camera to text in a foreign language, and the app will translate the words you put before it, erasing the old and inscribing the new in their place. As TechCrunch’s Drew Olanoff explains, Google built this feature around Word Lens, a program that it acquired when it purchased Quest Visual last year. When I showed it a volume of Portuguese poetry, it was able to offer serviceable—if singularly unpoetic—takes on some lines. “The Martian found me on the street,” a Carlos Dumond de Andrade poem, aptly titled “Science Fiction,” promisingly begins, only to continue, “And had fear of my impossibility human.” Not bad, but I’ll stick with Richard Zenith’s more elegant rendering: “A Martian ran into me on the street/ and recoiled at my human impossibility.” While it was impressive to watch the words take shape on my phone’s screen, this clearly isn’t the sort of task that the program was designed to accomplish—and it shouldn’t be faulted for its failure.

To access popular services like Gmail, Google Calendar and the Translate app, users must turn to a Great Firewall-leaping VPN or similar such tool that gets around internet restrictions. Google Translate performed much better in my neighborhood coffee shop, successfully translating signs into Spanish, Filipino, and a variety of other languages, but it struggled to make sense of the specials scribbled on the chalkboard. I spoke to Julie Cattiau, product manager at Google Translate, yesterday about the Translate project as a whole, and asked specifically about Translate as an aid, rather than a replacement: JC: Translate is not a replacement for a language-learning course; it’s not going to teach you a language from scratch or all of the intricacies involved in learning a language. Like Google’s image recognition software—which has gotten the company into a bit of trouble in the recent past—Translate uses convolutional neural networks to determine what is and isn’t a letter, and then to guess how those letters fit together into words.

But part of that is also the overall user experience, which is why we also invest in things like instant camera translation and multi-language conversation.” JC: Personally, I really enjoy reading and hearing user stories around how we were able to improve their lives by enabling them to connect with other people — whether it’s someone successfully ordering off of a foreign menu, a couple getting married who didn’t speak each other’s languages, or a life being saved because an emergency responder could communicate with someone.

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