The translator of Google, also known as Google Translate, is one of the most useful tools the Mountain View company makes available to users for free. It is compatible with more than 100 languages and can be used from the web, from Android or from iOS, so it could be said that it is the most versatile. Today, precisely, we are going to get to know it better and how it is used beyond the basics.
First thing: how Google translate works
Google Translate works, like many things in Google, with artificial intelligence. At the beginning I used SMT (statistical automatic translation), which roughly means that I was looking for a similar text in two languages (for example, the abstract of a scientific article) and established relationships: this word is this, this is this word, this construction it is done using these words, etc. That made the translation viable, but not too precise, so it was useful for words, but for longer texts things got complicated.
In fact, according to the Independent, at first the Google translator translated from one language to English and from English to the target language, using English as an intermediate language and “cross-referencing the phrases in question with millions of documents obtained from the official transcripts of the United Nations and the European Parliament “.
In 2016, Google changed its approach to opt for a neural machine translation system, which we know as GNMT (Google Neural Machine Translation). Instead of separating a sentence into words and translating them independently, this considers the entire sentence as a whole to provide a complete and unified translation. The system was later enhanced with Zero-Shot, which allows phrases to be translated between languages that have not been translated before. Not all translations are one hundred percent accurate, so better use them as a guide
Google explains it with an interesting example. Imagine that we train the neural network to translate from Japanese to English and from Korean to English, but never from Japanese to Korean. Google’s neural network learns the parameters to translate between these three languages and allows the system to transfer the “translation knowledge” from a known pair of languages (Japanese-English) to another never seen before (Japanese-Korean), generating translations for the ones that have not really been trained.
It’s like using English as a Rosetta Stone: learn how to translate something from Japanese to English, then how to translate something from Korean to English, and establish a Japanese-Korean relationship using the English translations. It is an approach that may be similar to the initial one, but it is really completely different, since the translator no longer pivots around English, but uses it to establish relationships between other languages.
How to use Google Translate on your computer
Now that we know more or less how it works, let’s see how we can use it. The easiest way to make specific translations is by using the Google search bar and searching for “translate ‘term'”, replacing “term” with the word we want to translate. For example, if we want to know how to say “chair” in English, we can Google “translate chair” and it will show us a box with the translation.
Another quick option is to google “translate”. By doing so, Google will show us a Google translator widget in which we can write longer paragraphs, select the input and output languages and obtain an immediate translation. As a recommendation, in the input language mark the option “Detect language”, so you will avoid having to manually choose between the more than 100 languages that are available.
For sentences or paragraphs, the most appropriate is to go to the web. The limit of the Google translator is 5,000 characters, which, to give you an idea, is 800 more characters than you have read up to this point in this article and 3,700 less than all those it contains. On the web we can:
- Write or paste the text we want to translate to get an instant translation.
- Use the computer microphone to record ourselves and translate what we say into another language.
- Translate entire documents (PDF, .doc, .txt, .xls, etc.)
- Listen to the translation, copy it, share it and edit it (the latter will help Google’s AI to improve translations).
Before moving on to mobile applications, it should be noted that the Google translator is integrated into the Google Chrome browser itself. If you want to translate a complete website, just right-click on the body of the text and select “Translate to Spanish”. Automatically, the website will be in your language, although keep in mind that the translations are not one hundred percent accurate.
How to use Google Translate on a smartphone
If you want to use it on a mobile phone, you can access the Google translator in two ways: using the browser, applying what is seen in the previous section, or using the dedicated app that you can find in Google Play and App Store. The advantage of using the app is that there are a good handful of interesting functions that can be useful depending on what context.
In the smartphone app you can access the same languages that are available on the web, with the addition that you can download them to the phone’s memory to do offline translations. To do this, click on the output or input language, find the language you want to download and click the arrow icon that appears on the right. This is really useful for when you travel to a country without roaming and, as an interesting point, the languages are automatically updated when you connect to a WiFi network, thus avoiding consuming more data from the account.
We thus go through the added options, which you can find in the form of icons just below the translation box. These are the following:
- Camera: it does not work in all languages, but its operation is interesting. Basically, it allows you to use the camera to focus on any text in another language (a sign, a fragment of a book, etc.) and superimpose the translation on the same image, as if it were augmented reality. We can also “scan” the photo, which will mark the detected words that we can translate by passing our finger over it or doing the same, but uploading a photo from the gallery.
- Handwriting: little more to add. Instead of typing using the keyboard, we can write by hand by drawing characters with our finger.
- Conversation: as its name suggests, it is used to translate a conversation in real time. We choose the input and output languages, we speak in our language, the app translates it into the other language by showing it in text and reproducing it through the loudspeaker, our interlocutor speaks in their language, the app translates it into ours and reads it to us and displays it in text. .
- Voice: same as conversation, but only for one person. You just have to dictate to Google translator what we want to translate and it will show us the translation in the language we choose.
The Google translator will keep a record of all the translations that we do in the app. These can be marked as favorites to add them to “Vocabulary”. It can be useful to take away key phrases for a trip, such as “Where is the bathroom?”, “How do I get to …?”, “Where is the bus stop?”, Etc.
All of this we’ve seen so far is available on iOS and Android, but the last feature, “Tap to translate,” is only available on Google’s operating system. In short, this function creates a bubble superimposed on the screen with which we can obtain instant translations of any copied text, ideal for translating WhatsApp or Instagram messages, for example. You just have to copy the message, touch the bubble and voila, translation achieved.