Google Goggles turns translator

Those of us not lucky/smart enough to read foreign languages have, until now, been fairly poorly served by technical replacements to the trusty travel phrase book.

There are, of course, plenty of standalone handheld devices which are simply electronic phrase books with keypads, some of them offering text-to-speech features. An existing Google phone app attempts to translate spoken words, though looks to be a little fiddly. And for those with more than $2,500 to spare, NEC has a pair of spectacles which hears speech, translates it, and projects subtitles straight into your eyes.

But now Google has a solution which might deal with the problem of printed text in a foreign language. It comes in the latest edition of Google Goggles, the company’s package of search tools which work from images taken with a cameraphone: for example, a snapshot of a wine label can give reviews and suggested dinner choices to partner it.

Version 1.1 of the Android app can now analyze a picture of a block of text, such as a restaurant menu, then translate it between English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. Users can also use the “region of interest” button on their phone to select a particular phrase or section of text in the picture. Google developers are also working on a version which can cope with non-Latin lettering such as Russian, Chinese or Arabic.

It certainly sounds like a great idea. The only drawback is that users are at the mercy of not one, but two technologies which can have unpredictable results: optical character recognition and automated translation.

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