Jan 12th, 2015

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Google Translate is a great tool for breaking down language barriers, but that tool is about to get even better if the latest report from the New York Times is anything to go by. The publication reports that Google is readying an update for Translate that’ll translate speech to text in real time, so asking for directions in a foreign country doesn’t have to be a clunky, drawn out process or require you to search high and low for someone who speaks the same language as you.

It’s a natural progression for one of the widest-used translation tools on the internet, especially considering other companies have begun implementing similar features in other apps (of noteworthy mention is Microsoft’s Skype, albeit in a very limited form of Spanish-to-English right now).

The belief is that Google will take things a step further and utilize the interesting company they bought a while back by the name of Quest Visual. That company makes an app which lets users look at words on a sign or poster through their phone’s camera and get immediate translation of that word in a multitude of languages (perfect for translating things like street signs or store names).

Unfortunately the early details are scarce, and there’s no clue how robust this feature will be in the early going. One of the biggest hurdles of implementing features like this is proper voice dictation in a multitude of languages, but Google’s gotten a pretty good head start on that for voice-enabled searching and actions on their search engine, Android and iOS apps.

The other hurdle that needs to be hopped is a sizable and accurate translation engine — check that one off for Google, too. The last hurdle? The development of the technology in a way that makes it all seamless, fast and easy for two people to communicate in different languages and understand each other just as well as two identical native tongues would.

If Google’s able to get that done then it could become the single greatest tool to help people overcome the frustrations that differing languages can impose on a social life. Let’s hope we hear more from the titan in Mountain View soon enough.

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