It’s official. We’re living in the future. Last month a company called Word Lens launched an application that lets you scan text with your phone’s camera — and translate and replace the words on your camera screen in real-time. Today Google launched an experimental feature for Google Translate on Android which does the same thing for spoken conversations. It’s called Conversation Mode, and it makes it (sort of) possible to hold a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you.
Here’s how it works. You launch the Google Translate app and either type a phrase or speak into the microphone. A translation should appear on the screen. But you can also hit the “Enter Conversation Mode” button to bring up a screen that will automatically read the translation aloud.
Then you can hand the phone to the person you’re talking to, and they can click the “Responder in Español” button. Repeat as necessary.
Right now Conversation Mode only supports English and Spanish. And it’s not exactly perfect. Even if it could recognize and translate every word perfectly, (which it can’t), there are syntactical differences between languages that are always hard for machine-based translators to handle. This could lead to a world of confusion if you try to engage in a real conversation using this feature before it’s fully baked. But it’s still all kinds of awesome — and to be honest, it probably works a bit better than Word Lens right now, even though Conversation Mode is still in alpha testing.
Google Translate is available as a free download from the Android Market.