October 13, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka
Google Translate debuted a Conversation Mode earlier this year that enabled an English speaker to talk into an Android phone and have the text-to-speech engine reply in Spanish. It was a very alpha implementation, but the first step towards introducing live translation for anyone using an Android 2.2+ phone who needed to talk to a Spanish speaker.
Today, that courtesy has been extended to 12 more languages. An update for Google Translate now supports conversation mode in Brazilian Portuguese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Polish, Russian, and Turkish. Like its predecessor, this version is still in alpha, meaning it’s not to be considered a final product. There are some bugs to be ironed out, limitations in translation quality, and users should not hop a flight to Hong Kong and expect for Translate to meet all their needs (especially since people in Hong Kong speak Cantonese and not Mandarin).
Translate also lets users correct mistakes. If you say, “Where is the train?” and the prompt shows, “Where is the rain?” instead, it’s easy to correct with text rather than repeating yourself. Despite mistakes, it’s interesting to see something like this happen. I previously did some testing of conversation mode with a couple of strangers and it did an alright job of getting the point across. There were definitely some miscommunications, and it will be a while before this app is fluent and fast enough to hold real meaningful conversations beyond “How do I find The Hauge?”
Download for your Android 2.2+ phone or tablet. Oh, by the way, the app has been optimized to display better on 7-inch and higher screens.