How to Use Google Translate on Your Smartphone

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Thanks to apps like Google Translate, it’s easier than ever to communicate with people who don’t speak your native tongue. With support for more than 100 languages, this powerful app is indispensable for travel and for any time you need to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language. You’ll get the most out of this powerful app from the start if you know how to use all its features. Read on, and we’ll share the tips and tricks you’ll need to master Google Translate.

What Google Translate can do

As one of the best language translation apps around, the Google Translate app offers a lot of handy features and is available for Android and iOS. Here’s everything it can do and the number of languages currently supported for each feature:

  • Text translations: Type in text (108 languages).
  • Offline translations: Type in text offline (59 languages).
  • Instant camera translations: Camera translates in real-time (94 languages).
  • Photos: Take a photo and upload for more accurate translation (90 languages).
  • Conversations: Real-time, two-way conversation (70 languages).
  • Handwriting: Draw text and characters on screen (96 languages).
  • Phrasebook: Save translated words and phrases.
  • Tap to Translate: Tap to copy text in any app and translation pops up.

How to translate text

By far, the most common use-case for the Google Translate app is to translate text that you can type in. This is why the app defaults to the text translation screen. Once you open the app, it is fairly easy to use.

As seen in the images below, on the top left corner is the language you are translating from and on the right is the language you are translating to.
The app will attempt to identify your recently used languages automatically, but you can just tap on either language to get a big drop-down list of possible choices.

Step 1: To begin translation, tap in the text box to bring the virtual keyboard up and type in the word or phrase that you would like to translate.

Step 2: The app will translate it as you type. It might suggest another phrase if it thinks you have mistyped, and you can just tap that if it is what you were looking for.

Step 3: You’ll also see a small speaker icon on the left-hand side of every translation. Tap it and your device will speak the translation aloud. This can be incredibly useful when you are unsure of pronunciations.

Step 4: If you don’t have the text-to-speech option then you may need to install Google’s TTS app.

Step 5: Once installed, ensure that you select Google Text-to-Speech Engine for this to work. Here’s how you can do that on Android.

Step 6: Open Settings, and tap on System.

Step 7: Select Language and input.

Step 8: Make sure the Google Text-to-speech Engine is selected.

You’ll also notice three options at the bottom of the text box. They allow you to switch to the camera for real-time translations or to take photos to upload, open up conversation mode, or turn on voice to speak your required phrase or word instead of typing it. To translate handwritten text, just click the pen icon on the right-hand side of the screen to open the handwriting screen.

How to share translations

With every translation the app returns, you have a couple of icons beneath the translated text. You can choose to copy it to your clipboard and paste it elsewhere, or you can tap the three vertical dots for more options and tap Share to share it via Messages, Bluetooth, and other apps.

How to translate offline

While Google Translate used to require an internet connection, and it still works best when online, you can now use it to translate 59 languages even when you’re without an internet connection. However, you do need to download the relevant language packs first.

To do this, tap the three horizontal lines at the top left, then Offline translation. You’ll see the available languages you have downloaded at the top and can scroll down and tap on any other languages you’d like to add.

How to use the real-time camera or upload a photo

Google Translate offers a lot of features beyond automatically translating web pages. The real-time translation feature uses your phone camera to help you translate a sign, something on a menu, or any other written text.

Step 1: Open the Google Translate app and tap the camera icon.

Step 2: Make sure you select the language you want to translate and point the camera at the text you want to be translated. The app will find and translate the text it sees from the first language to the second.

Step 3: Once the text you want to be translated is on screen, tap the Pause icon at the bottom right to freeze your screen.

Step 4: If the app doesn’t automatically start translating on-screen, tap the Scan icon at the bottom to turn instant translation on. Bear in mind that you’ll need an internet connection for this to work. You can often get better results by scanning and selecting specific text.

Step 5: Tap Scan then hit the gray shutter button to start scanning text, then use your finger to highlight the text you want to translate or tap Select all.

Step 6: You can also tap the Import icon at the bottom right to get Google Translate to scan a photo you already took — you’ll be prompted to choose from your gallery app.

How to translate handwriting

If you tap the pen icon, a panel will pop up where you can try handwriting whatever you want to be translated. Be warned, though, this doesn’t work well for every language and much will depend on how neat and legible your script is.

If you have a stylus or a phone like the Galaxy Note, handwriting will be easier, but you can always have a go using your finger.

How to use conversation mode

The Google Translate app offers a conversation mode that is a godsend for travelers. This mode allows you to talk to your phone in your language and the listener gets to hear the translated version of what you say, in his language.

To cite an example, if you are an English-speaking person traveling to Germany, and need to talk to someone who understands only German, all you need to do is to open Conversation mode, speak in English, and the listener gets to hear a translated version of your message in German. When he replies to your message (in German), the app does a reverse translation and you can listen to his answer in English.

Check the steps below to learn how to use Conversation mode on Google Translate.

Step 1: To initiate the process, tap the Conversation icon on Google Translate, and select the language you wish to translate to. Then tap the hand icon at the top right and show the person your phone screen. The screen will display a message saying that you will be communicating using Google Translate.

Step 2: At the bottom, you’ll see a microphone symbol next to each language and you can take it in turns to speak and watch the app translate your speech and talk aloud to your companion in their own language.

Step 3: You can also tap the Auto microphone option in the middle to have Google Translate listen and pick out the relevant language, but, be warned, this doesn’t always work very well, and is not available for all language pairs.

How to use Tap to Translate

Tap to Translate is a nifty feature that lets you translate any text on any app you see on your phone screen, to a language you understand. This can be particularly useful if you happen to come across a message (say, on WhatsApp) in a language you do not understand and need a quick way to translate it — and possibly reply back in the same language.

Note that this works only with apps within which we get the option to ‘select’ text. This does not, for example, work with images (for which you can choose to upload the image, instead).

Before you start using Tap to Translate, you need to make sure you turn on the feature from within the Google Translate app. Since the feature is available in any text-inclusive app, you may want to turn it off when not in use.

Step 1: To turn the Tap to Translate feature on, open the Google Translate app and tap the three horizontal lines at the top left to open the menu.

Step 2: Then tap Settings > Tap to Translate and toggle Enable on.

Step 3: Now, open the app where you want the text translated from and highlight the relevant text by dragging your finger over to select it. Then, tap copy.

Step 4: Next, tap the Google Translate icon when it pops up on the screen. You should see the translation appear overlaid on the app near instantly.

How to build your own phrasebook

If you find yourself using select words or phrases repeatedly, it might be a good idea to save them for future use (and access them quickly). Well, that is what the Phrasebook option does for you. Here’s how you can use the phrasebook effectively on Google Translate.

Step 1: If you want to save a translated word or sentence, make sure you open the translation screen on Google Translate and write down the text you need to be translated.

Step 2: Once the translated text appears below, click the star located at the text box’s top right corner. This star will keep all your favorites in a phrasebook.

Step 3: To access your favorites list, click on the “hamburger” menu in the top left and open Phrasebook from the options list.

Step 4: The phrasebook even has a search feature that you can access by clicking the magnifying glass. This handy feature is great for language learners wanting to revisit words and phrases to memorize the ones they use the most.

How to use Google Translate as a dictionary

Turns out Google Translate can also function as a very capable dictionary. No matter your primary language, you can use Google Translate to define any word you want. Here’s how.

Step 1: Select the same language for both boxes.

Step 2: In the translation box, Google will give its best shot at explaining the word in the first box.

Step 3: It doesn’t always work if English is the chosen language, for whatever reason. Choosing Detect language for your input and English as your output usually gets around this issue.

Step 4: Once you get it set up, all you have to do is type or say the word you want to define, and Google Translate does the rest.

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