You may have heard people say not to use Google Translate, or any machine translator, to learn English. And it’s true that when you use it for direct translation it may not be totally accurate. But wait! Google Translate has a lot of very cool features that can be a huge help to you.
You can open Google Translate in a web browser or download the app on your phone. Each version has some of the same features, and some totally different features. Let’s take a look.
I bet you have already used Google Translate (I know I have!) and you know its basic features. These features are available in your browser and also in the app.
You can choose your input language, choose your output language, and type your word or phrase. When you click “enter,” your translation appears in the results window. Both windows have a speaker symbol. If you click on it, the computer will read the word to you in either language.
The Input Box
In the input box, where you type, you will find a drop-down keyboard where you can type letters with accents, or alphabets and characters from many of the world’s languages. You can type up to 5000 keystrokes in this box.
You can also click on the microphone symbol and use your voice to add a word or phrase. Use the speaker button to have your phrases read out loud to you. If you need to type something from a language you can’t identify, Google will help you detect what language it is.
The Results Box
One very cool feature of the results box, where your translation appears, is the ability to “star” the translation and save it to your own personal phrasebook. To use this feature, you should create an account and make sure you are signed in each time you use the feature.
Under the translation boxes, you will see another button with a star labeled “Saved.” You can click here to view all the translations you have saved. Build your own phrasebook and review it! This is a great way to learn and review new vocabulary words and expressions.
One thing I like to do with Google Translate is to try and write a sentence in my target language, let’s say Spanish, and translate it to my language, English. Then, I use the double arrow button at the top to switch the input language to English. I keep making changes in my sentence, both in English and in Spanish. I keep clicking the arrow button again and again, making changes each time. Use your knowledge of English grammar to correct Google’s sentence! Keep switching back and forth, and when you’re done, you’ll probably have a grammatically correct sentence that is exactly what you were trying to say!
On Your Computer
On the desktop, Google Translate also has the option to upload an entire document in PDF format. It will then provide a complete translation of the entire PDF, and you don’t have to do any typing at all!
On your phone
When you download the Google Translate app to your mobile device, you unlock many more cool features.
Ways to Enter Text on Your Phone
Just like on your computer, you can enter text to translate with your keyboard or your voice. But on your phone, which is a touchscreen, you can also use your finger to write your words. Google Translate will change your handwriting into typed words.
Using Your Camera Feature
You can choose to enter text using your camera! With instant translation, just aim your phone’s camera at text on the computer screen, on a sign, in a book, etc., and Google Translate will show the text directly on the image in the language you have selected. This works best for a few words to no more than a sentence.
If you click scanning input, your phone will scan the screen and show the translation in the app’s results box. This works best for slightly longer texts of two or three sentences.
You can also take a photo and upload it into the app. Google Translate will show the translation in the results box, as with the scanned input. I think this is the best method, because you are using a fixed image and you don’t have to try and hold the camera still! The app seems to work much better with this method.
Using Your Phone’s Microphone
The app, like the browser, has an audio input feature. However, the app also has two other ways to enter text with your phone’s microphone.
If you choose the button with two microphones, labeled “conversation,” you will be taken to another screen that is ready for your input. At the bottom of that screen, you will see three more buttons. Here, you can set Google Translate listen for your target language, your own language, or a mixture of both languages! This would be a great help if you and your conversation partner speak different languages. Again, sometimes Google has trouble with accuracy if the speech is too fast or not clear.
Audio Input Mode
If you choose the button with one microphone, labeled “voice,” you can read to Google Translate in the language you have set to be the input language. You can see the translation in the results window when you are finished speaking.
This might be a good way to test your pronunciation! Read to Google in English, and see how well it is able to hear and translate what you say.
You might also ask Google Translate to listen to a YouTube video in your own language, and translate it to English for you. Chances are good that the translation will not be totally accurate – this is a great opportunity for you to copy and paste it into a word processor and put your English grammar skills to good use! Correct the sentences, improve the vocabulary and spelling, and turn it into good English!
Download Language Packs
Did you know you can use Google Translate offline? One of the coolest features of the app on your mobile device is the ability to download an offline translation pack.
On your device, go to the list of languages (either the “translate from” or “translate to” list). Tap the down-arrow button next to the name of the language pack you want. (Not all languages are available to download, but many of them are.) The files aren’t too big, between 35 and 45 Mb, so they won’t use much space on your phone.
More Tips for Using Google Translate
The best way to find an accurate definition of a word in English is to look it up in an English dictionary. If you set both your “translate from” and your “translate to” settings to English, Google Translate will return a dictionary definition (in English) for the word you type.
Both versions of Google Translate also have a history feature, so don’t be afraid of losing something you want to save! Either “star” it and add it to your phrasebook, or use the “history” feature to review all your recent translations.
Both versions will also show you the word in a sentence, expressions using that word, and other words with the same or similar meanings.
Just remember that with any machine translation, it’s not going to be perfect. Google Translate can’t help you with levels of politeness, or with context. It can’t tell you if the word or phrase is currently used a lot, or if it is old and isn’t used much at all.
Give It a Try!
Try all these cool features of Google Translate! Use the “voice” feature on the app to have Google listen to a YouTube video in your language, and translate it to English for you. Chances are good that the translation will not be totally accurate – this is a great opportunity for you to copy and paste it into a word processor and put your English grammar skills to good use! Correct the sentences, improve the vocabulary and spelling, and turn it into good English!
Have some fun with Google Translate! Just remember, it’s not totally reliable for direct translation, but it’s a great tool that can help you learn English. You might also want to check out this post about ways to use Netflix to learn English. Leave a comment below and tell me how you use Google Translate. Tell me if this post helped you learn how to use this technology in a new way. See you again soon!
You can join thousands of other English learners on our email newsletter list and receive free English tips each week. Click here to join our email group.