Google Translate still baffled by Chinese but rolls out photo, video support for 20 new languages

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 July, 2015, 12:58pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 July, 2015, 2:10pm

Google has rolled out an update to its popular Translate app, adding support for 20 new languages to its visual translation tool, which can decipher text in photos and video. 

Northeast Asian countries have not yet been included due to the complexity of the Chinese characters they depend on either wholly or partially. 

The new languages are Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Filipino (Tagalog), Finnish, Hungarian, Indonesian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Swedish, Turkish and Ukrainian, as well as limited support for Hindi and Thai.

"Just open the app, click on the camera, and point it at the text you need to translate," Google said in a statement.

"You'll see the text transform live on your screen into the other language. No Internet connection or cell phone data needed."

Photo or video translation is not available for Chinese, Japanese or Korean, though text-to-text translation and voice-to-voice translation are all supported for these languages. 

Writing software code to recognise Chinese characters, particularly traditional characters such as those used in Hong Kong, is notoriously difficult. 

While optical character recognition (OCR) tools can decipher Chinese characters from scanned documents, detecting them in photos and videos adds another layer of difficulty, one that Google has not been able to overcome. 

One app which specialises in doing just that is Waygo, which can translate photo-based or other text into Japanese, Chinese and Korean into English. 

However, unlike Google Translate, Waygo charges a premium for its service and does not offer video translation. The app costs users US$1.99 for one week or US$6.99 for lifetime use.

With the update, Google is also targeting emerging markets where internet connections can be less reliable. It aims to increase the amount of information stored in the app and reduce the number of queries it sends to Google servers. 

This may prove a boon to users in China, where nearly all of Google’s services are blocked. To access popular services like Gmail, Google Calendar and the Translate app, users must turn to a Great Firewall-leaping VPN or similar such tool that gets around internet restrictions. 

According to Google, Translate processes 100 billion words every day, with 95 per cent of the requests coming from outside the US.