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While Microsoft has started blazing the trail towards a real life universal translator with its closed preview for Skype Translator, it seems as though Google isn’t too far behind. Today, the New York Times reports that the company will soon update its Google Translate app for Android so as to offer real-time translations for people speaking foreign languages.

The update to Google Translate will offer language recognition features that the app doesn’t have right now. Essentially, a user can activate the app and record someone speaking a different language; the app will recognize it and then translate it into a different language via written text.

Currently, the app translates written text from one language into another based on either photos taken with a smartphone’s camera or text typed in via the app’s keyboard. Some languages also have speech support, in that the app will read the translation out loud. The app also provides translations of people’s speech, but the languages have to be pre-selected before it can recognize what the speaker is saying and then provide said translation. Moreover, a user has to push a button to activate the app in the first place, which seems like a bit of a hurdle for those lost in a foreign land.

As it stands, Google Translate performs a minor miracle by working at all, but the upgrade described in the NYT report sounds even more impressive. Back in May of last year, Google acquired a company called Quest Visual, which made a real-time text translation app called Word Lens. It would seem that Google has put Quest’s translation tech expertise to good use in Google Translate. Combined with Google’s speech recognition prowess, the new version of Google Translate will continue to wow users and improve in functionality.

Altogether, the potential of these translators is exciting. However, let’s also not forget how important it is to actually learn new languages. There’s something to be said for the knowledge one gains from actually acquiring new ways to speak to others around the world, and no technology can ever truly substitute the benefits that come with talking to someone in their native tongue.

[Source: New York Times]

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