Google Translate: Everything you need to know

When you think of Google’s core services, there are quite a few that come to mind. Many of you will think of Google Translate quite fast, though, that’s for sure. Google has plenty of software offerings that stand out, but Google Translate is easily one of the best-known ones. This translation service has been around since April 28, 2006. That makes it almost 18 years old at the time of writing this article. Back then it was categorized as a ‘statistical machine translation’ service, while it switched to a ‘neural machine translation’ service in 2016. In this article, we’ll talk more about Google Translate, to give you a better idea of what it is, and what it can do.

What is Google Translate?

Google Translate is basically a language translation service from Google. Or if you’d like a more scientific term, it’s a “multilingual neural machine translation service”, as indicated on Wikipedia. It’s actually one of the best-known language translation tools out there, if not the best-known one. Basically everyone I personally know uses Google Translate for translation needs, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone mention anything else in day-to-day life. There are other offerings out there, which we’ll talk about later on, but Google Translate is very popular.

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What platforms is Google Translate available on?

You can access Google Translate in an app form, and also via your web browser. When it comes to apps, Google Translate is available on both Android and iOS, to of the largest mobile operating systems out there. You can also access it via basically any desktop operating system, simply navigate to, and you’ll have access to its services. Using it is also very simple.

Do note that you may not be able to use the Google Translate app on just any Android smartphone. The device needs to have Google services. So it either needs to come with Google Play Store pre-installed, or in case if you’re importing a device from China, it needs to have support for Google services. The app likely won’t work on devices from Huawei, unless you’re using an emulator like GSpace. Why? Well, due to the US ban. Huawei is blocked from using Google services on its devices.

What are Google Translate’s competitors/alternatives?

Are there any competitors to Google Translate out there? Well, yes, and you may have even heard of some of them. The Microsoft Translator is a good example of competition for Google Translate. It can translate well over 100 languages, and it has a nice app you can use. It also has some benefits if you plan on using it on your website, over Google Translate. Its API lets you translate more characters than Google Translate (for free), for example.

Another good example of a competitor is Amazon Translate. It’s a part of Amazon Web Services, though it’s mostly focused on API usage, so it’s not exactly the same. Amazon Translate also has a higher monthly limit than Google Translate when it comes to API usage, the same as the Microsoft Translator. Looking at it as a personal translation tool, however, it’s not exactly a competitor to Google Translate or Microsoft Translate.

Yandex Translate is another great choice. It doesn’t translate nearly as many languages as Google Translate or Microsoft Translator, but its pricing is the advantage here if you plan on using it on your website or something like that. API usage is paid only, though, it’s no longer free, as is for Google Translate and Microsoft Translator (with limits).

Can I use Google Translate if I’m not connected to the Internet?

Is it possible to use the tool without an Internet connection? Well, yes, but only if you use an app, it’s not possible on the web. Why? Well, because you need to download the languages you’re interested in first. If you want to translate a language you didn’t download for offline use, you’ll need an Internet connection. You can easily download them via the Google Translate app, though. Simply open the app, and tap the section with languages at the bottom (either left or right). Once you do that, you’ll see a drop-down menu and a download icon next to various languages. Tap that icon and download the language you need. That way you’ll be ready to go if you’re traveling abroad or something like that.

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What is the first thing you should do in Google Translate before you start using it?

This actually ties into the previous section, downloading languages. There’s really only one thing you should do before you start using the app, download the languages you need. This only applies if you expect to be out of the Internet connection at some point while needing the Google Translate app. Many people only download Google Translate when they’re traveling somewhere, so its usage in offline mode is presumably quite high. If that’s the case for you, make sure you download the languages you’ll need. That’s basically the only thing you should do in order to prepare the app for usage.

Is the Google Translate app free to use?

The answer to this is both yes and no. How come? Well, the app is completely free to use for personal use. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re good. If you plan on using it on your website and need API usage, then it’s free to use up to a certain degree. Google Translate API free tier lets you translate up to 500,000 characters per month. If you expect that the limit will go over that, you’ll need to pay up for Google Translate API usage. The vast majority of you reading this will probably use it as a personal translation tool. If that’s the case, you have nothing to worry about.

What are the best features of Google Translate?

Needless to say, Google Translate is all about translation. All of its features are related to various translations, so that’s what we’ll talk about here. Google Translate does offer plenty of choices in that regard, text is only one of them. So, let’s see what’s on offer.

Offline access

The first feature worth noting is the offline access for your translating needs. As mentioned in an earlier chapter, you can download specific languages offline, so that you always have access to them. Many times when you travel you don’t have access to the Internet at all times, which is where such an option is welcomed. This is basically a must-have feature for an application that handles language translations.

Basic text translation

Google Translate does support basic text translations. That’s the basic feature of this app and the first one that was made available. You can simply type in what you need translate, or paste text from a different app, website, or wherever you want. Make sure to select the language that the text comes from and the language you want the app to translate it to. You can also let the app figure out what language it is, in case you don’t know.

Voice translation / conversation

Voice translation allows you to speak to someone who speaks a different language. All you need to do is fire up an app and tap the ‘Conversation’ option in the bottom-left corner. That will enter the conversation mode where you’ll be able to set the parameters and start talking to a person who speaks a different language. Do note that there’s also an option for you to speak into the microphone, and for the app to translate what you said (or someone else). That option is highlighted with a large microphone icon, it’s located next to the ‘Conversation’ option.

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Camera translation

The third option at the bottom of the screen within Google’ translation app is ‘Camera’. It’s located in the bottom-right corner, and it’s the last one of the magic trio down there. If you tap this option, a camera UI will appear, and you’ll be able to point it to the text you need to translate. Google Translate will do the heavy lifting for you even without you snapping a photo, it’ll translate text in real-time.

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Handwriting translation

Google Translate also supports handwriting translation. You can simply use your handwriting in order to write something that needs translating, and that’s it. This is also very convenient if you need something to be translated and there’s no letter on your keyboard. If we’re talking about a different alphabet or something like that.

Website translation

What if you need Google Translate to translate an entire website for you? Well, that’s not a problem either. It’s very simple, copy and paste the URL of a website you need translated into Google Translate, and the app will handle things for you. This is also a rather common use case for this tool, and it improved a lot over time.

Translations of text inside files

Google’s translation service also allows you to translate files. For example, if you have a PDF document that you don’t really understand, and need to read it in a different language, that’s not a problem. You can simply upload that document to Google Translate, after which the tool will analyze it, and offer you the translated version.