In January during the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Google debuted interpreter mode, a real-time translation feature for Google Home speakers and third-party smart displays like those from JBL, Sony, LG, and Lenovo. The tech giant said at the time that interpreter mode would eventually come to mobile devices, but it didn’t set a date. The date is today, as it turns out.
As of this morning, Google Assistant on both Android and iOS smartphones supports interpreter mode, enabling you to ask for directions, order food, or simply chat in a foreign language. The number of recognized languages has increased from 27 to 44, and interpreter mode now lets you optionally type using a keyboard or manually select the language in which you’d like to speak.
Saying a command like “Hey Google, be my German translator” or “Hey Google, help me speak Thai” kicks off interpreter mode. You’ll see and hear the translated conversation on your phone, and after each translation, Google Assistant might present suggestions (like “Nien” or “Ju tut et”) that let you quickly respond.
“Travelers already turn to … Assistant for help researching and checking into flights, finding local restaurant recommendations and more,” wrote Google Assistant director of product management Lilian Rincon. “Whether you’re heading on a trip this holiday season, gearing up for international travel in the New Year, or simply want to communicate with family members who speak another language, interpreter mode is here to remove language barriers no matter where you are.”
In demos of interpreter mode last year, VentureBeat found it to generally respond quickly, but we noted that exchanges were capped at around 15 seconds. The process was also somewhat clunky, requiring speakers to wait for a tone, say a few words, wait again, and listen to Google Assistant respond. None of that has changed, and it makes interpreter mode less useful than it might otherwise be in conversation. That said, it’s a good fit for environments like hotel check-in and concierge desks, where it has been piloted.
The expansion of interpreter mode to new form factors comes after Google Assistant gained the ability to speak two languages at once — initially a combination of English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish and later Korean, Hindi, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Dutch. (Interestingly, Google says the same technology underpinning Assistant’s bilingual capabilities powers interpreter mode.) Google’s conversational AI more recently became conversant in over 30 languages in 80 countries (up from 8 languages and 14 countries in 2017), and it added nine new AI-generated variants of English voice tailored to English speakers in the U.K., India, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Korea, and Italy.
Perhaps more significantly, a new and improved version of Assistant launched on the Pixel 4 in early fall. Its English model works offline and processes speech at “nearly zero” latency, delivering answers up to 10 times faster than on previous-generation devices.