The future of translation

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A year ago Google bought the Word Lens app from Quest Visual, and now the way we think of translation is changing.

If you’re unfamiliar with Word Lens/Google Translate’s new feature, it feels like it’s straight out of a sci-fi flick: you point your camera at a sign in a different language, and the translation appears right there on the screen almost instantly.

Google Word Lens iPhone GIF

Admittedly, the system isn’t perfect. When I tried it on my phone, sometimes the translations flicker and change, like when words have multiple or unclear meanings. And of course, the app only works for select languages right now, including English, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, and Russian.

Still, I am incredibly impressed by how far our translation abilities have come; I never would have imagined this kind of technology would make it off of movie and tv screens and into the real world. I can’t help but wonder how this will change our ideas of language barriers, particularly when visiting another country. Will we feel more open to explore, confident in the translating power of our devices? Or will we become locked into depending on our device instead of trying to communicate directly with others?

I could see both. I was fortunate enough to spend a month traveling in Europe last summer. I went in with minimal language skills – besides some rudimentary Italian, I only know a couple words and phrases in French and German – so at times this improved translation system would have been very much appreciated. That being said, I survived my trip alright without it. You can understand a lot from people’s body language and other nonverbal cues, and plenty of signs have accompanying pictures or symbols that convey messages universally.

Bottom line? You can probably get along without this high-tech translation tool…but you gotta admit it’s pretty cool.

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