Conversation Mode for Google Translate: Surely Ensign Hoshi Sato Would Be Impressed

Editorial note: Here’s another post from Ultan O’Broin (@ultan) from the Oracle Applications User Experience Team in Dublin. Enjoy.

Wow! A new year and already another cool translation feature in the mobile space announced. Following last month’s Word Lens launch, this time it’s Conversation Mode for Google Translate on Android.  Here’s how it works:

In conversation mode, simply press the microphone for your language and start speaking. Google Translate will translate your speech and read the translation out loud. Your conversation partner can then respond in their language, and you’ll hear the translation spoken back to you.

Seems like we’re moving close to the Star Trek Universal Translator all the time, huh?

Right now, Conversation Mode is alpha, and supports English and Spanish only. But don’t knock it. It won’t put interpreters and translators out of business but will let mobile users communicate easily when there is no alternative translation available.

Some think that Google Translate has run out of steam (it probably has in its current form for the major languages), but kudos to Google for continually finding new ways to use Google Translate to help people communicate the world over.

All this is a reminder about Android’s growing global significance (sorry iPhone fanbois) and of critical mobile user experience aspects such as personalization (have it any way you like it, even by language), but also that there’s huge market potential for mobile apps and features outside of the U.S. So don’t forget to internationalize your products!

The technology itself probably has all sorts of uses in the assistive area, as well as in sales, customer support and service, generally.

But your thoughts? We call ‘em Comments.


  1. Conversation Mode also supports French and German, and it’s really pretty good. The combination of speech-to-text, translation, and text-to-speech is amazing stuff.

    This is a killer mobile app.

  2. Hola.

    Automatic translation certainly has a long way to go. Google Translate has added Finnish, but has difficulty translating the language. And any automatic translator is going to be thrown by regional variants. But the progress that has been made so far is still impressive.

    Just don’t forget us Windows 7 netbook users as Android and iOS battle it out. Semi-mobile users need translation capabilities also…

  3. Limitations of Google Translate are well exposed here by Andreas Zollman here: (Though the maxed out paradigm really only applies to “major” languages). Still, I expect Google can counter this by rule-based analysis and human guidance as well as promoting source information quality. In the enterprise space, if the machine translation is trained properly it’s very effective. Outside that space we often forget the alternative to a bad Google Translate translation (or one from Bing Translator or whatever) is not a better translation, but none at all. Very impressive though, I agree.

  4. Right. Very impressive. And, I expect many more language options to be available too. What is interesting is that like Word Lens we see mobile translation innovations becoming available to everyday users for the first time. And again, in the translation space we see innovation being driven by company whose core competency isn’t actually translating stuff.

  5. Among Google’s core competencies are information management and algorithms, so translation fits nicely. Their use of captchas (to assist digitizing efforts) and voicemail transcriptions (to improve text-to-speech) have lead to machine translation.

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