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This article was published on July 29, 2015

Google Translate updates with more languages, smoother conversations

Google Translate updates with more languages, smoother conversations
Lauren Hockenson
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Lauren Hockenson


Lauren is a reporter for The Next Web, based in San Francisco. She covers the key players that make the tech ecosystem what it is right now. Lauren is a reporter for The Next Web, based in San Francisco. She covers the key players that make the tech ecosystem what it is right now. She also has a folder full of dog GIFs and uses them liberally on Twitter at @lhockenson.

Back in January, Google changed its Translate app in significant and powerful ways, offering written translations across 90 languages, as well as active conversation interpreting for 32 languages and an AR instant sign-reading translation tool for 7 languages.

Now, the company announced via blog post today that it has expanded Google Translate in both content and performance.

When reading signs or other written documents, users can now instantly translate to and from English and Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Filipino, Finnish, Hungarian, Indonesian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Swedish, Turkish and Ukrainian.

The app can also provide one-way translations from English to Hindi or Thai. These new languages join the original translation set — from English to and from French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

Otavio Good, a software engineer at Google Translate and the original author of realtime AR translator WordLens, told TNW that the translation power comes from a series of highly trained neural networks. The system is taught specific icons across multiple kinds of instances — including different fonts, minor damage, false highlighting and even extreme shadow. The result is that across thousands of samples, the network begins to recognize, apply and translate the words.

The process of that sign translation is magical, but the challenges of documenting a language can be difficult. Good says that Eastern languages in particular, which rely on many icons and often have a more “cursive” look to them, are very time and labor-intensive. But, they remain goals for the team.

“Arabic is in demand, but it’s very difficult,” he noted.

See the app in action below, as it translates the lyrics to ‘La Bamba’ in real time:

Additionally, the app now has improved performance in conversation interpreting to offer a much more natural flow when speaking to someone in a foreign language — even on lesser networks. Product Manager Julie Cattiau said that Translate serves a global audience (it’s made a huge impact on Brazil, for example) where internet connections might not be very strong. The app is now optimized to accommodate for choppier cellphone data speeds, so phrases will be translated much faster.

Finally, the company also marked the one year anniversary of its Translate Community, which provides samples and corrections of languages to Google. Cattiau said that the Translate Community has been essential to providing accurate writing samples of different languages — including many that aren’t catalogued well on the Internet. Most recently, the Translate Community helped facilitate translation from and to Kazakh.

See the world in your language with Google Translate [Google]

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