Google just made you bilingual –well almost.

As part of a massive update to Google Translate, the app now has the ability to translate speech in real time in seven languages and take pictures of text for translation into 36 languages.  This means it’s easier for you to ask directions, get to the bathroom, or blend in a little bit when you travel.

Google Translate works on both Android and iOS operating systems, making it a must have travel app for anyone venturing overseas. 

How It Works

Voice recognition and an audible playback make it useful when trying to have a conversation in a foreign tongue.  Indeed, one of the key updates to this app is the ability to carry on a conversation, via your phone, when neither of you speak the other’s language.  It’s fast and can have you conversing seamlessly, as long as there is limited background noise.  Tap the microphone and speak, and the app will translate it and say it in the other language.  Once your statement is made, the microphone will click on for the other individual to respond.  This will continue on, back and forth, like your having a real conversation.  The only issue I had with this particular feature was related to any ambient noise.  During one of my tests, the app struggled to complete sentences when there were other conversations taking place nearby. 

I took it a step further and used the app as a way to teach me proper sentences and pronunciations in Spanish, a language I studied for many years in school.  I’d speak into it in English and hear the instant Spanish translation.  Then I’d repeat that translation which would immediately get translated to English!  And on and on I went.

In addition to audible translation, instant translating of any written word is in real time and quite amazing.  The app uses the camera on the phone to see the words, and translate them on the screen, as you move the phone.  It’s great for street signs, train stations, airports and even menus at restaurants.  Anything you can point your camera at will be instantly translated into the language of your choice, right before your eyes.  You’ll never find yourself ordering what you thought was one thing, and getting something completely different on your plate.

The Best Feature By Far

For those who have been hammered by data fees while traveling overseas, Google Translate makes it possible to use the tool offline, which is a big plus.  There’s no need to find a WiFi hotspot to connect to and it can work anywhere.  It would have come in quite handy in local villages I stopped at in Vietnam and Cambodia several years ago.  In fact, it would have left many of the villagers speechless.

Google claims that over one billion translations are made each and every day.  That number is sure to grow as more and more travelers discover this app and the seamless way it helps them get around in places where neither party speaks the language.   

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Mark Murphy is a noted travel expert, author and founder of  You can follow him on Twitter at @murphytravels.