translate text AND speech with Google Translate app

Today I'm pretty excited to talk about an iPhone app (which also happens to be an iPod touch/iPad app, of course) that Google just introduced as a native app for these devices, versus in the browser, which, until now, has been the only way to use Google services on these devices (so of course, still is for various other services).

Which service?

Google Translate

I remember watching a video a month or so ago demonstrating translation technology that allows speakers to speak sentences in their chosen language, and have them automatically translated to the listener's language. It was an interesting concept, and worked quite well in that demonstration - no doubt this will improve in the future.

Press the microphone next to the input field to speak

Now this technology is available on smartphones, so not only can you translate text regularly, but you can speak it, and hear the resulting translations. I think the text-entry is certainly good enough for a download (the app is free), but my husband and I did some brief speaking tests to determine how accurate (or off) the translations would be when speaking into the phone, as we all know the text translations aren't typically 100% accurate, but rather close enough to get the gist, in most cases.

I started out with the simple "how are you" in English, which translated to "genki desu ka" in Japanese - perfect. I also did this in reverse and it worked the same, per the example below (though that was probably obvious).

I also tried asking, in English, "Do you have this medicine?" The result was a bit off, including the term "anata (you)" which is unnecessary in this instance, and "motte iru", which is more like, someone carrying something with them so they "have" it. I would have expected "arimasu (have)" as the main verb instead. Regardless, a native Japanese speaker would still understand what you mean, in that particular case

Next I asked my husband to try a few Japanese phrases, at normal speaking speed. The app caught all but one try, in which he spoke much faster and the words were slurred just a bit. The translations all conveyed the correct meaning, though some of them were worded differently than what a native speaker might say, or sounded more formal, or just a tad bit strange. Oh, and when my husband tried to say the phrase "today is very sunny, isn't it" in English, the app kept taking "sunny" as "funny," but when I said the phrase, it caught "sunny."

Some examples of what we were trying...

I have yet to take take this out into the "real world" and do some actual tests... but I suspect it may come in handy when you're stuck in a situation trying to understand something seemingly important that someone is trying to tell you. I'm sure many of us have been there at some point or another. Once I've put it to some real life tests, I'll report back.

If you have used the speaking component of this app out in the real world, feel free to leave a comment about your experience.

Oh, and this app is also available for Android. (It would be silly if it wasn't though... considering it's Google and all...)

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