Apparently lost in all the excitement surrounding widgets, the app library and new Memoji hairstyles in iOS 14 was the fact that the update gives the next best thing to a Star Trek Universal Translator. It is called Translate app, and it’s part of the powerful feature set of iOS 14. Let’s take a look at how it works.
What languages does the Translate app support?
This first iteration of the Translate app supports the following languages: English (US and UK), Spanish (Spain), Chinese (Mandarin, Simplified), Japanese, Korean, Russian, German (Germany), French (France), Italian (Italy) ), Portuguese (Brazil) and Arabic.
Does the Translate app require an Internet connection?
Translate can work with or without internet connection, but for best usability it is best to download a language before you travel. For example, let’s say I’m going on a European trip and visiting France, Germany, Italy and Spain. I can download offline languages so the whole translation is done on my iPhone – no internet connection or expensive roaming plan required.
This is done by launching the app and then tapping one of the two languages listed at the top of the screen. If you do so, the “Languages” screen will appear displaying recently used languages, all available languages and available offline languages. To download Spanish to iPhone, I just press the download button to the right of Spanish and transfer the necessary files.
When the download is complete, the download button turns a green check mark to indicate that Spanish is now loaded on my iPhone.
Maybe you’re in a restaurant in A Coruña, Spain, and you want to know exactly what a dish called “Pulpo Gallego” is. Pull out your trusted iPhone, turn off Translate, and make sure English and Spanish are listed at the top of the screen. If you need to change the language, click on one of the two languages and the list of available languages is displayed – press one to go to a new language.
On the screen you will see a message about entering text – tap it. The display now shows a text field with buttons for the two languages, English and Spanish, at the bottom. Since I am going to write a Spanish sentence in the field for translation, I press Spanish and the prompt changes to “Introducir texto”. The keyboard also changes to Spanish, with the space bar marked “espacio” and the “go” key marked “ir”. Press Pulpo Gallego, press “ir”, and we will see that the mystery flesh is Galician squid. Now I know that this dish is made with squid and that it is popular in Galicia (northwest of Spain near Portugal). In case you were wondering, it’s delicious too!
To hear how the Spanish sentence is actually pronounced, I can highlight the Spanish words, tap Speak … in the popup menu and select Español as the language. If I want more of an idea of what a word really means, I can select it with a tap, and then tap Look up in the pop-up menu. This is where I find out that not only is pulpo Spanish for squid, but it is also used as a term for a bungee strap! If I decide that I absolutely love Pulpo Gallego and want to order it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I can mark the phrase as a favorite by pressing the star button (★).
Text translation is useful, but not when trying to speak to someone in a foreign language. This is where Translate is Call mode comes in handy. Say I am in Germany, have pre-installed the German language in the translator, and I get an inexplicable desire for cheese. Now I could definitely use the text translator, but talk mode is much easier.
Conversation mode uses your voice, and the voices of people around you, as the way to enter text in the translator. While in Translate, you see a microphone button that looks like this:
Tap it and start speaking (or get another person to speak on the iPhone), and immediately you see the translation on the screen and hear the expression spoken in German. If the iPhone volume is turned up, that German speaker hears the expression and can answer. Has the volume not turned up? The expression is displayed on the screen in both languages:
Turn on the iPhone and put it in landscape mode, and you’ll see the two languages side by side:
And if your käseverkäufer (cheese seller) has poor eyesight, tap the double arrow at the bottom left of the screen to make it easier to see:
Apple calls the big text view Attention mode.
The cool thing about call mode is that you (or the person you are talking to) can press the microphone button to speak at any time, and Translate automatically determines which language is spoken. In this example, we have kept the iPhone screen open for the cheese seller, and she has read the translation. With a press of the microphone button and a gesture that she should speak, she answers:
Once again, pressing the play button (the white circle with the black triangle in it) will “speak” the translation so that the person you are talking to can hear the translation.
A good first step, but …
The Translate app is quite impressive for a first try from Apple, but there are some things I would like to see in future versions. First, what if you do not know what language a person speaks? It would be nice to just have the iPhone to “listen” to a person speaking, understand what language is being spoken, and then start the translation. Second, pressing the microphone button does not contribute to real conversations – perhaps if the app could determine which words are part of a conversation and what is unusual to speak, the iPhone can only translate in real time without the need to press the entire button the time. .
I also miss a feature in another, more mature translation app – Google translator (App Store link). This feature is the ability to point the camera at text in another language and have it translated instantly.
Google Translate also supports 108 languages from African to Zulu, has a real conversation mode and can determine what a written language is, and then automatically converts to your “home language”. I think both the iOS Translate app and Google Translate are very useful in their own ways, and they are perfect for traveling both at home and abroad.