Google Translate adds Japanese to English instant camera translation with 5.7 update


Google Translate quietly unveiled an upgrade Wednesday for its live camera translation feature, specifically for Japanese to English and English to Japanese translations. The update also includes a fix for a sharing bug with Facebook Messenger.

While the upgrade is certainly impressive, its relative newness shines through in certain instances. Translate and some other competitors has been focusing more on OCR, or object/character recognition, over the last few months.

In order to use the new feature you would go to Google Translate as usual on your phone, set the languages for Japanese and English in either order, tap the camera icon, then tap the eye icon to download the new pack. After a minute or so if you are on a WiFi connection, it should be ready to go. It will look somewhat glitchy as it tries to interpret the letters in real time, often dependent on the phone staying relatively still to hold on to that translation.

A simple Japanese bathroom sign shows some quick work by the app.

Japanese bathroom sign (original)
Japanese bathrooms sign with the English ‘Men’ translated on the blue cap to the left and ‘restrooms’ translated at the bottom (Gedalyah Reback/Geektime)

It appears that one of the limits of the new OCR tool is handwriting, which is to be expected. While some words simply won’t translate (in this case, the “Olicity” relationship on the CW show “Arrow”) the other terms should be relatively easy to spot.

Here’s a sample text to work with. Sorry, not sorry. (Gedalyah Reback/Geektime)
One screenshot of Google Translate trying to interpret English into Japanese (Gedalyah Reback/Geektime)

Accuracy still seems to be somewhat of an issue. The instant translation mechanism also can’t really compare to the straight-up still image interpretation seen below.

Google Translate’s non-instant image recognition seems to work much better than the new instant Japanese-English pack, It picks out all the words it recognizes but totally ignores the 7-letter unit it can’t (Gedalyah Reback/Geektime)

The non-instant version seems to ignore words it cannot interpret, even when the letters are relatively easy to extrapolate from such beautiful handwriting. Zooming in on a single word, “ended,” results in a bit of an odd translation.


Unfortunately, this is a demonstrable error thanks to one of Google Translate’s other features: handwriting. I don’t have a background in Japanese, but thanks to their handy dandy handwriting feature, I know this means “in the evening.”

The most up-to-date version of the interpretation tool now has instant camera translation available in 30 languages with its update for Japanese. There is a non-instant camera mode for 37 languages (which presumably includes many if not all of the 30 tongues for which it offers instant translation).

Other quiet updates for the app have included the ability to draw characters instead of typing them in 93 languages, saving people the grief of having to download a new language pack for an alphabet they don’t recognize. It also includes a conversation mode for instantaneous translation in 32 languages.

The new update is available through Google Play and the download of the new language pack should work through the app itself.



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