Your Japanese Rusty? Google Word Lens Will Translate For You On The Fly On Your Phone

Whether your ability to speak Japanese is rusty at best or you never learned the language in the first place, do not let that stop you from planning a visit to Japan. Just be sure to bring along a smartphone with Google Translate installed. Google's nifty translation tool just received an update that allows the app's augmented reality (AR) Word Lens feature to recognize the Japanese language and provide on-the-fly translations using your phone's built-in camera.

This is one of the wonderful benefits of AR that goes beyond gaming. As Google points out in its blog post announcing the feature upgrade, Tokyo can be a confusing and even daunting place to navigate if you don't speak Japanese.

"Even if you make through the complex subway system, you'll be faced by street signs, menus, or products on supermarket shelves that are only in Japanese," Google explains.

Google Word Lens

That is where the Word Lens feature can prove immensely helpful. The Google Translate app already lets users snap a photo of Japanese text and get an English translation, but Word Lens takes it a step further. With Word Lens, you need only fire up Google Translate and point your camera at the Japanese text. An English translation will appear as an overlay on your handset, as shown above.

Even better is that this all happens locally on your phone rather than in the cloud. That means you don't need to have an Internet or cellular data collection.

One thing to keep in mind is that Google Translate is not a substitute for learning the language or getting a proper translation (though it is getting better). It is best used for short phrases or individual words, rather than long strings of text where it can trip on the true meaning of the message. Nevertheless, it is a handy supplement.

With the addition of Japanese to Word Lens, the AR feature now supports 30 languages, or about a third of the 103 languages Google Translates recognizes by typing. And there are 52 languages the app supports for offline translation.

You can download Google Translate for Android here and iOS here.