Google continues to up its translation game

Google Word Lens online language translation app

I’ve been learning Bengali off and on for over ten years now and am, unsurprisingly, always on the look-out for digital tools to help me with the language.

Despite it being the seventh most spoken language in the world, it’s not the easiest task, with on- and offline Bengali resources being few and far between.

So, although it’s probably years away from being available in my chosen language, I was nonetheless taken by the recent expansion of Google Translate’s Word Lens to Japanese.

The augmented reality translation application (or, foreign-wordy-magic as it really should be named) passed me by when it was added to Google Translate in 2015.

Since launched it’s been made available in languages like Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese and Russian, and now Japanese.

Word Lens already provided translation from a photos of Japanese text, but the latest iteration allows users of the app to point their camera at any text and see it instantly translated from Japanese to English and overlaid on their screen.

Masakazu Seno, Google Translate software engineer, wrote: “You don’t speak Japanese, Tokyo can be a confusing and sometimes daunting place to visit. Even if you make it through the complex subway system, you’ll be faced by street signs, menus or products on supermarket shelves that are only in Japanese.

“With Word Lens now available in Japanese, you’ll never have to worry about taking a wrong turn on a busy Shibuya street or ordering something you wouldn’t normally eat.”

Meanwhile, Google Translate itself last year took a huge evolutionary leap forward last year through its application of artificial intelligence, as Gil Fewster explains here (HT: @Cleverpeeps for the link):

Google Translate invented its own language to help it translate more effectively. What’s more, nobody told it to. It didn’t develop a language (or interlingua, as Google call it) because it was coded to.

It developed a new language because the software determined over time that this was the most efficient way to solve the problem of translation.

As for my language quest, so far one of the biggest technological advances has come from something as obvious as Apple’s addition of a Bengali keyboard option for iPhones, saving me from wrestling with well-meaning but cumbersome transliteration apps that transformed words in Roman characters to their Bengali equivalent (or an approximation).

But here’s to hoping Bengali will added to Google’s Word Lens soon. I’ve certainly got a stack of books from Kolkata I need a hand with.


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