If you have ever used the Google Translate tool to translate text from one language to another, you will know that it is limited. However, Google announced this week that it was not only improving the service, but that it was also offering translations in real time through Android and iOS devices.

TheTranslate app already lets you take a photo of text and get a rendition of it in one of 35 languages. This next step forward will allow users to take snap shots of street signs with a phone camera and have them translated into another language automatically, with the translated text layered the original photo.

Real Time Translation

At the moment it works to and from English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, among others, but there are other languages on the way.

According to a blog post by Barak Turovsky, product lead at Google Translate, the new functionality also translates speech. He pointed out that if you are talking to someone in an unfamiliar languages conversations “can…get… can... get... realllllllly... sloowwww.”

Simply tap the mic to start speaking in a selected language, then tap the mic again, and the Google Translate app will automatically recognize which of the two languages are being spoken, letting you have a more fluid conversation. For the rest of the conversation, you won’t need to tap the mic again — it'll be ready as you need it."

He also said that while Google has offered this kind of translation mode in Android since 2013, these updates make the whole process a lot smoother and easier to carry out.

Google is not the only company working on this kind of technology. Last month Microsoft introduced similar functionality in Skype, four months after it announced that it was working on it. The Skype service is still in preview and only those that receive an invite can access it. It also appears to be slightly more sophisticated than the product that Google is describing, but then the Skype product appears to be directed at business users rather than the wider market that Google targets.

According to Google, more than 500 million people use its Translate service every month, making more than one billion translations everyday This upgrade takes Google a step closer to providing a universal translator through mobile phones. How effective it is remains to be seen as does how it stacks up against Skype.

Title image copyright by jorisvo / Shutterstock.