Google Assistant will soon be able to act as your real-life translator in 27 different languages. Google announced today that the voice assistant is getting a new “interpreter mode” that can translate in real time so you can hold conversations with someone who doesn’t share the same tongue. It works, but it’s not magic.
You’ll be able to say things like, “Hey, Google, help me speak French,” or “Hey, Google, be my French interpreter,” and Google Assistant will show text across a smart display that translates your words as you speak. Afterward, it will open the microphone for the second person to be able to speak in their language and words will be translated across the screen at the same time. Google Assistant also plays back the words in your native tongue.
You don’t have to tell Google what language you’re speaking, as it will be able to tell, so long as it’s one of the languages supported. But if two people talk over each other, Google won’t understand.
We tried out the interpreter mode during CES by speaking Mandarin. While it’s a pretty big improvement from not being able to understand a foreign language, there are still some kinks that need to be worked out. It’s a little unnatural in practice: you need to speak, wait for the translation to process, and repeat until your conversation is over. There’s even a chance that Google will simply miss some of your sentences. That process can be tiring for longer conversations.
Google Assistant has had bilingual capabilities since an update appeared in August, and that’s the same technology behind the new interpreter mode. This is far from Google’s first attempt at real-time translation — in addition to the Google Assistant’s multilingual feature, Google also incorporated a translation feature in the Pixel Buds in November 2017, which eventually began making its way to all headphones that support Google Assistant last October. While the feature works, the translation can sometimes be rudimentary and imperfect.
The new interpreter mode still has time to get better, though. The mode will first arrive on the Google Home Hub and is being piloted at hotel concierge desks like the one we visited on Monday. It should roll out on Google Home devices and third-party smart displays from Lenovo, LG, JBL, and others over the next few months.
Here’s a full list of languages supported: