Google added a conversation mode to its Translate app way back in 2011, but that requires installing an app. That’s so old-fashioned. Google also added an interesting interpreter mode to Assistant smart speakers recently, but that wasn’t helpful for travel. Now, interpreter mode is available on phones, allowing you to instantly converse in another language with no tedious downloading or setup.
This feature is rolling out to all smartphones with Assistant starting today. That includes Android phones with Assistant built-in and Apple devices running the Assistant app. Just open Assistant and tell it you want to do some translating. You can use phrases like “Be my German translator” or Help me speak Spanish.” You can also specify a language afterward by saying “Turn on interpreter mode.” If you don’t have the feature yet, Assistant will route you to the Translate app.
The interpreter mode in Assistant defaults to the “auto” setting, which listens for speech and translates it instantly to the chosen language. Someone else can reply in their language, and Assistant transcribes that back into your language. Google has also integrated smart replies with interpreter mode, something that was not feasible with smart speakers. After transcribing a reply, Assistant might suggest replies the same way it does in notifications and the Messages app on Android. You can tap one of these to have it translated for the other party.
The language in Assistant output appears on the screen, but you can also have it spoken aloud. Like the Translate app’s conversation mode, you can keep this back and forth going, letting Assistant translate in real time. It can even use your location to make sure it chooses the right regional dialect—think standard French versus Quebecois French.
On smart speakers, the interpreter mode only supported 29 languages, but the phone version can handle translation in 44 languages. Again, you don’t have to download anything ahead of time. You will, however, need an internet connection. It won’t need to be especially fast, but the text still has to get to Google’s servers. If you’re going to be someplace without reliable internet access, you’ll still want to get the Translate app and download the necessary offline language packs. It’s possible Assistant will get some sort of AI-powered offline translation capabilities in the future, but that’s not on the current product roadmap.
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