How to Use Google Translate for Travel, from Travel Pros.

What is Google Translate? It’s a FREE app that let’s you translate to and from dozens of languages using both written and verbal input.

Make your travels easier by understanding the ins-and-outs of Google Translate. This short, but in-depth video covers ALL the features you’ll need when you travel abroad, using live demonstrations.

Even if you’ve used Google Translate before, we bet you’ll learn something new.

Learn about the different translation input options, how and when it’s best to use each one and tricks you can use to make sure you’re understood. Certain types of languages have some extra features, as well.

This tutorial isn’t from a textbook, it comes from more than 2 years of continuous international travel to places where we really knew none of the language. These are times when you’ve got to be ready and think quick.

While Google Translate and this tutorial will get you a long way, there are other techniques you can use to get your meaning across when the translator isn’t enough. There are also some languages that Google Translate doesn’t cover, like most of the local languages in Ghana.

In these cases, it’s good to have other strategies. After you watch the video, check out our post: When You Don’t Speak The Language – A Survival Guide

We have a bunch more Travel Tips and Tutorials for all types of travelers.


Enjoy the video! Let us know if we can help.

And if you do want to learn the language, check this out:

Video Transcript

Welcome to Team Hazard’s Google Translate tutorial. Whether you’re tech savvy, or not, we’re going to make it easy for you to get along in another country where you don’t speak the language. We have plenty of video, but we recommend that you download the Google Translate app before we get started so you can play along.

You can pause here if you need to. We’ll be humming the Jeopardy theme in our heads while we wait for you to get back. Ready? Let’s go.

The most obvious input is the one Google Translate defaults to when you open it, and that’s typing on your on-screen keyboard First, choose your languages, putting the input language first. You can change it with the double arrow here as needed. Just switch back and forth between the two then tap the message area and your keyboard will pop up. Type as normal and when you’re ready you can either tap go, or this arrow up here.

When it shows the final translation on this screen you can also tap the speaker icon so that it speaks to the person you’re talking to. This can work very well when you’re in a taxi and need to talk to the driver without pulling his attention away from the road to look at the screen.

Sometimes it’s too noisy for the speak aloud function, or the other person may prefer to read the text rather than listen. That’s great, you can simply hand over the phone. But if the text is too small for someone to read comfortably you can easily turn your phone on its side to enlarge it.

There’s also an on-screen icon to do the same thing. This can come in very handy when you’re asking a single question and maybe getting sent around to find something. Like, you’re at the grocery store and you want to find out if they have delivery. You just pre-type it, ‘do you have delivery?’ and then you go up and ask, and then they’ll point you to the next person and you show them the same question, and then they’ll point you to the right person, and it’s a little bit quicker if it’s in the extra large print.

So when you’re done you tap the X in the upper right corner to clear the message area to prepare for your next message. The translation you’ve just finished then moves down below the active area of the screen you can go back to it and recall it at any time.

There are two ways to speak into your phone for translation.

The first is to tap the microphone in the Google Translate app. See that red comma pulsing button question mark that means the app is listening , and taking dictation period. You’ll note that I’m speaking punctuation period. If your message is short this may not be necessary period. But sometimes it helps when you need to separate subjects period. When you’re done speaking, comma simply tap the red button period.

The other way to speak into the translator is to use the microphone on your keyboard. This is especially helpful when you start typing and then you realize it’s going to be a pain to type something out and you want to speed up the process. There’s no red button, but there is a pulsing voice recorder. Tap it when you’re finished and then proceed with the arrow or Go button like you did using the type in method.

There is a handwriting method. It’s a bit peculiar and feels rather archaic, but the option is here if you want it. Tap the handwriting icon and the bottom half of your screen becomes a writing surface. Use your finger, or a stylus, to write what you want translated. It’s okay for the writing to overlap itself, to a point. If you write quickly and overlap a whole lot, the translator might get confused.

Yeah, like that.

Google Translate can live translate any text you point it at. Supposedly. There’s definitely a hit and miss factor here, especially when you’re trying to read menus in China. We were at Pizza Hut and tried to read the beverage menu and the drinks translated into things like, Survival Female, Mixed Juice Campaign and Tea and Will Be Angry Bird Dragon Tea. Needless to say, live translation can be good for a lot of laughs, but it can be very helpful, too. Especially for reading menus and signs, or buying snacks.

By the way, you have to be online for this to work, even if you’ve downloaded the language for offline use, which I’ll show you later. Live translation all happens online.

Let’s take a look at how this works.

Check to make sure your languages are set up properly. Now, tap the camera icon, point, and wait a moment.

You’ll notice that it bounces around quite a bit.

Sometimes it settles on a mostly final translation, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you have to take the gist of several of its guesses to cobble together an idea of what it’s talking about.

Sometimes it’ll never make sense. I ate a lot of things the translator failed to translate in China and I still have no idea what they were.

Sometimes this is helpful, sometimes it’s good for a laugh, but don’t avoid using it because it’s not always accurate. It usually helps a little bit.

Conversation is another live input option that you have to be online for. It can be difficult to use. If you pause too long, or speak too fast, it seems to get hung up. Also, if it makes a mistake there’s no way to correct it.

This doesn’t mean you won’t find it useful. It has advantages like detecting the language you’re speaking rather than you having to change the input every time back and forth. If you and your speaking partner can get it to work it can have a nice flow.

First, check your languages, then start it up by tapping the double microphone icon. Then tap the microphone at the bottom of the screen so it goes into two language mode.

Let’s watch this one in action. Okay, so this translator is supposed to work and detect either language as we go. So simple question, where is a convenience store around here?

You have to wait until it translates what I say, okay, and then it’ll be your turn.

All right.

Where is the nearest convenience store?

(in Vietnamese, then Siri in English) The nearest convenience store is here. You can go to the fork and turn left, then turn right to the nearest grocery store on your left.

One thing to remember is no translator is perfect.

The problem is that you don’t know what it’s saying so you don’t know when it’s making mistakes.

Okay, sometimes you do. Once we were talking to someone on the cleaning staff about bath towels and Google Translate said something about Spiderman. That one was pretty obvious.

Remember, if the other person looks confused or doesn’t do what you’re asking, it could be the translator giving bad or confusing information.

Be patient, try again with the translator, or try stating it in a different way. Simplify your sentences and keep them to a single thought. Even if it makes your speech a little unnatural, it may help you be understood.

Going the other way, it’s okay to say that the translator isn’t making sense. They’ll know then that you didn’t understand them and then they can try again.

No matter where you’re going you should always download the language, or languages, you need so you can use them offline. That way, whether the Wi-Fi is out, you’re out of cell tower range, or credit on your SIM card runs out, you’ll still have your translator.

You definitely want to do this if you’re travelling to China, or anywhere Google is banned. If you forget to download Chinese before you get to China, and you don’t have a VPN, you’ll have to use a different translation app.

Fortunately, most of the stuff I’m showing you here is pretty similar across most of the translation apps.

To download a language for offline use simply tap the language at the top of the screen, choose that, or any of the other languages from the list, and then tap the download arrow. To check and make sure it’s there, go to Settings, tap Offline Translation, and it will show you the languages you have ready to access offline.

Sometimes you’ll find yourself repeating, or repeatedly typing, the same things over and over.

I’ve had to constantly explain that Tim is mostly blind so I can get help, meaning access to the elevator, at places like train stations. This is definitely a phrase worth saving. You might find yourself needing to ask if the food contains peanuts, or where the nearest ATM is. These might be phrases you want to save.

Once you’ve translated the phrase simply tap the star on the right. Then, to access your saved translations, go to the bottom of the screen and tap, Saved, then tap on the phrase you want to bring up. To unsave, simply tap the star again and it won’t appear in your saved list anymore.

Sometimes the list of past translations gets messy from prolonged conversations or repeated attempts to get your point across.

Maybe you’re changing countries and only want to keep one language on your translator at a time, or maybe you’re crossing a border where you don’t want a detailed history of your conversations available to immigration agents. Not that you’re doing anything nefarious, but you may want to protect your privacy.

Whatever the reason, there are two ways to clear your translation history and they are insanely easy.

If you want to selectively remove certain bits of conversation simply touch the phrase you want to eliminate and swipe left or right, like you’re throwing it away.

To delete your entire translation history, go to Settings, scroll to the bottom and tap the red bar that says clear translation history. Easy peasy.

Scanning works especially well when you have a block of text you need translated but that you might want to reference later as well. Unlike the live read translation, scanning saves the text just like other translations. It also seems to be significantly more accurate than the live read translation.

To scan, tap the camera’ icon, go to the bottom of the screen and tap scan. Once it’s in good focus, tap the frosty circle, as if you’re taking a picture.

Once you have the scan captured you can select individual words for translation, or select all. When you’re satisfied with what’s in the translation space, tap the arrow to see the full translation on the main page. Then you can save it, send it, trash it, or do anything else you do to a normal translation.

This feature is particular to certain languages. It demonstrates best in Vietnamese but applies to any language that uses a Roman alphabet, the usual ABC’s, but that has a lot of accents and special marks around the letters.

It applies when you have to type your input in the foreign language.

This can happen when the camera can’t get a good lock on a sign, or maybe a font is too stylized for recognition, or you’re looking at something in an app that doesn’t allow you to copy. Using a standard English keyboard, of course, leaves you without all of the proper characters to match the letters in that language.

In some cases not having those marks will get you an improper translation.

What you need to pay attention to is the line below the translation that says, Do you mean…? It will show the words with the added accents and marks. If this is what you’re trying to translate be sure to tap on the words with the extra marks to make sure you get the proper translation.

This will be more important in some languages than others. If you’re having trouble getting the right translation don’t ignore, Did you mean…?

You probably know how to copy and paste on your phone, but if you don’t now is the time to learn. Google Translate works great with copy/paste.

Often, texting is the best way to communicate with various people in your travels. This is especially true of drivers and guides. It also applies to friends you make and want to stay in touch with while you’re traveling.

It’s easy to copy from somewhere like Whatsapp and paste into Google Translate. Hold your finger on the text select the desired text. When prompted, then tap Copy. Switch over to Google Translate, hold your finger down in the translation field and tap Paste. Then use the translator normally.

Copying from Google Translate is even easier. In the lower right corner there’s a little double paper icon. Simply tap that and the translation will be copied onto your phone’s clipboard. Then go to whichever app you want to paste into, hold your finger in the appropriate spot and paste when the prompt comes up.

If you thought copy/paste was cool, wait until you see this. ‘Send to’.

Copy the text in Google Translate like you did in the last step, but tap the rectangle with the arrow. Now it will directly access any of these apps and set you up to send the translation wherever it needs to go, text, mail, Whatsapp, notes.

Whatever you want to do, wherever you want to send this translation, it’s probably accessible from this screen. Too easy, right?

I think that’s just about everything. It’s certainly plenty to get you off to a great start.

Google Translate is a valuable tool when you travel and it makes getting along in a country where you don’t speak the language much easier. Remember, it has its quirks but be patient and keep a good sense of humor and it’ll serve you more often than not.

Happy translating and happy travels!

Team Hazard

Old, fat and disabled and traveling the world anyway. Join Trina and Tim as they wander around the planet bringing you honest stories about the people and places they encounter.

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