Google Translate

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Google Translate
Google Translate Icon.png
Type of site
Machine translation
Available in 103 languages, see supported languages
Owner Google
Commercial Yes
Registration Optional
Users Over 200+ million people daily
Launched April 28, 2006; 10 years ago (2006-04-28) (as statistical machine translation)[1]
November 15, 2016; 24 days ago (2016-11-15) (as neural machine translation)[2]
Current status Active

Google Translate is a free multilingual machine translation service developed by Google, to translate text, speech, images, sites, or real-time video from one language into another. It offers a web interface, mobile apps for Android and iOS, and an API that helps developers build browser extensions and software applications. Google Translate supports over 100 languages at various levels[3] and as of May 2013, serves over 200 million people daily.[4]

In November 2016, Google announced that Google Translate would switch to a neural machine translation engine, which translates "whole sentences at a time, rather than just piece by piece. It uses this broader context to help it figure out the most relevant translation, which it then rearranges and adjusts to be more like a human speaking with proper grammar". The new translation engine will first be enabled for eight languages: to and from English and Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish.[2]


Google Translate can translate multiple forms of text and media, including text, speech, images, sites, or real-time video, from one language to another.[5][6]

It supports over 100 languages at various levels[3] and as of May 2013, serves over 200 million people daily.[4]

For some languages, Google Translate can pronounce translated text, highlight corresponding words and phrases in the source and target text, and act as a simple dictionary for single-word input. If "Detect language" is selected, text in an unknown language can be automatically identified.[7]

If a user enters a URL in the source text, Google Translate will produce a hyperlink to a machine translation of the website.[8]

For some languages, text can be entered via an on-screen keyboard, handwriting recognition, or speech recognition.[9][10]

Browser integration[edit]

Google Translate is available in some browsers as an extension which can run the translation engine.

A number of Firefox extensions exist for Google services, and likewise for Google Translate, which allow right-click command access to the translation service.[11]

An extension for Google's Chrome browser also exists;[12] in February 2010, Google Translate was integrated into the Chrome browser by default, for optional automatic webpage translation.[13]

Mobile apps[edit]

The Google Translate app for Android and iOS supports more than 90 languages and can translate 37 languages via photo, 32 via voice in "conversation mode", and 27 via real-time video in "augmented reality mode".[14]

The Android app was released in January 2010, while an HTML5 web application was released for iOS users in August 2008, followed by a native app on February 8, 2011.[15]

An early 2011 version supported Conversation Mode when translating between English and Spanish (in alpha testing). This interface within Google Translate allows users to communicate fluidly with a nearby person in another language. In October 2011 it was expanded to 14 languages.[16]

The 'Camera input' functionality allows users to take a photograph of a document, signboard, etc. Google Translate recognises the text from the image using optical character recognition (OCR) technology and gives the translation. Camera input is not available for all languages.

In January 2015, the application gained the ability to translate text in real time using the device's camera, as a result of Google's acquisition of the Word Lens app.[17] The speed and quality of real-time video translation (augmented reality) feature were further enhanced in July 2015 with the release of a new implementation that utilizes convolutional neural networks.[18][19]

On May 11, 2016, Google introduced Tap to Translate for Google Translate for Android. Upon highlighting text in an app that is in a foreign language, Translate will pop up inside of the app and offer translations.[20]


On May 26, 2011, Google announced that the Google Translate API for software developers had been deprecated and would cease functioning on December 1, 2011, "due to the substantial economic burden caused by extensive abuse."[21][22] Because the API was used in numerous third-party websites, this decision led some developers to criticize Google and question the viability of using Google APIs in their products.[23][24] In response to public pressure, Google announced on June 3, 2011, that the API would continue to be available as a paid service.[21][25]

Supported languages[edit]

Languages in development[edit]

These languages are not yet supported by Google Translate, but are available in the Translate Community.[40]

Translation methodology[edit]

In April 2006, Google Translate launched with a statistical machine translation engine.[1]

Google Translate does not apply grammatical rules, since its algorithms are based on statistical analysis rather than traditional rule-based analysis. The system's original creator, Franz Josef Och, has criticized the effectiveness of rule-based algorithms in favor of statistical approaches.[41] It is based on a method called statistical machine translation, and more specifically, on research by Och who won the DARPA contest for speed machine translation in 2003. Och was the head of Google's machine translation group until leaving to join Human Longevity, Inc. in July 2014.[42]

According to Och, a solid base for developing a usable statistical machine translation system for a new pair of languages from scratch would consist of a bilingual text corpus (or parallel collection) of more than 150-200 million words, and two monolingual corpora each of more than a billion words.[41] Statistical models from these data are then used to translate between those languages.

To acquire this huge amount of linguistic data, Google used United Nations documents.[43] The UN typically publishes documents in all six official UN languages, which has produced a very large 6-language corpus.

Google Translate does not translate from one language to another (L1 → L2). Instead, it often translates first to English and then to the target language (L1 → EN → L2).[44]

Google representatives have been involved with domestic conferences in Japan where Google has solicited bilingual data from researchers.[45]

When Google Translate generates a translation, it looks for patterns in hundreds of millions of documents to help decide on the best translation. By detecting patterns in documents that have already been translated by human translators, Google Translate makes intelligent guesses (AI) as to what an appropriate translation should be.[46]

Before October 2007, for languages other than Arabic, Chinese and Russian, Google Translate was based on SYSTRAN, a software engine which is still used by several other online translation services such as Yahoo! Babel Fish (now defunct). Since October 2007, Google Translate has used proprietary, in-house technology based on statistical machine translation instead.[47][48]

In September 2016, a research team at Google announced the Google Neural Machine Translation system, which will provide better translation results.[49]

In November 2016, Google announced that Google Translate would switch to neural machine translation, which translates "whole sentences at a time, rather than just piece by piece. It uses this broader context to help it figure out the most relevant translation, which it then rearranges and adjusts to be more like a human speaking with proper grammar". The new translation engine will first be enabled for eight languages: to and from English and French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish.[2]


Google Translate, like other automatic translation tools, has its limitations. The service limits the number of paragraphs and the range of technical terms that can be translated, and while it can help the reader understand the general content of a foreign language text, it does not always deliver accurate translations, and most times it tends to repeat verbatim the same word it's expected to translate. Grammatically, for example, Google Translate struggles to differentiate between imperfect and perfect aspects in Romance languages so habitual and continuous acts in the past often become single historical events. Although seemingly pedantic, this can often lead to incorrect results (to a native speaker of for example French and Spanish) which would have been avoided by a human translator. Knowledge of the subjunctive mood is virtually non-existent.[50] Moreover, the formal second person (vous) is often chosen, whatever the context or accepted usage.[51] Since its English reference material contains only "you" forms, it has difficulty translating a language with "you all" or formal "you" variations.

Some languages produce better results than others. Google Translate performs well especially when English is the target language and the source language is from the European Union due to the prominence of translated EU parliament notes. A 2010 analysis indicated that French to English translation is relatively accurate,[52] and 2011 and 2012 analyses showed that Italian to English translation is relatively accurate as well.[53][54] However, if the source text is shorter, rule-based machine translations often perform better; this effect is particularly evident in Chinese to English translations. While edits of translations may be submitted, in Chinese specifically one is not able to edit sentences as a whole. Instead, one must edit sometimes arbitrary sets of characters, leading to incorrect edits.[52]

Texts written in the Greek, Devanagari, Cyrillic and Arabic scripts can be transliterated automatically from phonetic equivalents written in the Latin alphabet. The browser version of Google Translate provides the read phonetically option for Japanese to English conversion. The same option is not available on the paid API version.

Accent of English that the "text-to-speech" audio of Google Translate of each country uses
  British English (female)
  American English (female)
  Oceania accent (female)
  No Google translate service

Many of the more popular languages have a "text-to-speech" audio function that is able to read back a text in that language, up to a few dozen words or so. In the case of pluricentric languages, the accent depends on the region: for English, in the Americas, most of the Asia-Pacific and West Asia the audio uses a female General American accent, whereas in Europe, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Guyana and all other parts of the world a female British English accent is used, except for a special Oceania accent used in Australia, New Zealand and Norfolk Island; for Spanish, in the Americas a Latin American Spanish accent is used, while in the other parts of the world a Castilian Spanish accent is used; Portuguese uses a São Paulo accent in the world, except for Portugal, where their native accent is used. Some less widely spoken languages use the open-source eSpeak synthesizer for their speech.[citation needed]

Keyboard shortcuts[edit]

The Keyboard Shortcuts for Google Translate extension for Google Chrome lets you use the following keyboard shortcuts for Google Translate: [55]

  • alt / ⌥ Option + A → select all
  • alt / ⌥ Option + D → delete
  • alt / ⌥ Option + L → listen to target translation
  • alt / ⌥ Option + ⇧ Shift + L → listen to source translation

Open-source licenses and components[edit]

Language WordNet[46] License
Albanian Albanet CC-BY 3.0/GPL 3
Arabic Arabic Wordnet CC-BY-SA 3
Catalan Multilingual Central Repository CC-BY-3.0
Chinese Chinese Wordnet Wordnet
Danish Dannet Wordnet
English Princeton Wordnet Wordnet
Finnish FinnWordnet Wordnet
French WOLF (WOrdnet Libre du Français) CeCILL-C
Galician Multilingual Central Repository CC-BY-3.0
Hebrew Hebrew Wordnet Wordnet
Hindi IIT Bombay Wordnet Indo Wordnet
Indonesian Wordnet Bahasa MIT
Italian MultiWordnet CC-BY-3.0
Japanese Japanese Wordnet Wordnet
Javanese Javanese Wordnet Wordnet
Malay Wordnet Bahasa MIT
Norwegian Norwegian Wordnet Wordnet
Persian Persian Wordnet Free to Use
Polish plWordnet Wordnet
Portuguese OpenWN-PT CC-BY-SA-3.0
Spanish Multilingual Central Repository CC-BY-3.0
Thai Thai Wordnet Wordnet


Shortly after launching the translation service, Google won an international competition for English–Arabic and English–Chinese machine translation.[56]

Translation mistakes and oddities[edit]

Since Google Translate uses statistical matching to translate, translated text can often include apparently nonsensical and obvious errors,[57] often swapping common terms for similar but nonequivalent common terms in the other language,[58] as well as inverting sentence meaning.[59]

Translate Community[edit]

Translate Community is a platform intended to improve the Google Translate service. Volunteers can select up to five languages to help improve translation; users can verify translated phrases and translate phrases in their languages to and from English, helping to improve the accuracy of translating more rare and complex phrases.[60] In August 2016 the Google Crowdsource app was released, which also offered translation tasks [61]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Orch, Franz (April 28, 2006). "Statistical machine translation live". Google Research Blog. Google. Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c Turovsky, Barak (November 15, 2016). "Found in translation: More accurate, fluent sentences in Google Translate". The Keyword Google Blog. Google. Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b "Languages - Google Translate". Google. Retrieved October 15, 2016. 
  4. ^ a b Shankland, Stephen (May 18, 2013). "Google Translate now serves 200 million people daily". CNET. Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  5. ^ "About - Google Translate". Google. Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  6. ^ "Google Translate Help". Google Translate Help. Google. Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  7. ^ "Translate written words". Google Translate Help. Google. Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  8. ^ "Translate text messages, webpages, or documents". Google Translate Help. Google. Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  9. ^ "Translate with handwriting or virtual keyboard". Google Translate Help. Google. Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  10. ^ "Translate by speech". Google Translate Help. Google. Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  11. ^ "Search Add-ons :: Add-ons for Firefox". Mozilla. Retrieved August 7, 2009. 
  12. ^ "Google Translate". Chrome Web Store. Google. Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  13. ^ Brinkmann, Martin (February 7, 2010). "Google Translate Integrated In Google Chrome 5". Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  14. ^ Ariha Setalvad (July 29, 2015). "Google Translate adds 20 new languages to video text translation". The Verge. 
  15. ^ Introducing the Google Translate app for iPhone, Wenzhang Zhu, Google Translate Blog, February 8, 2011
  16. ^ Ryan Kim (October 13, 2011). "Google Translate conversation mode expands to 14 languages". GigaOM. 
  17. ^ "Hallo, hola, olá to the new, more powerful Google Translate app". Google Blog. 
  18. ^ Barak Turovsky (July 29, 2015). "See the world in your language with Google Translate". Google Official Blog. 
  19. ^ Otavio Good (July 29, 2015). "How Google Translate squeezes deep learning onto a phone". Google Research Blog. 
  20. ^ Kastrenakes, Jacob. "Google Translate now works inside any app on Android". The Verge. Retrieved May 13, 2016. 
  21. ^ a b Feldman, Adam (May 26, 2011). "Spring cleaning for some of our APIs". Google Code. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  22. ^ "Google Translate API (Deprecated)". Google Code. Archived from the original on May 28, 2011. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  23. ^ Wong, George (May 27, 2011). "Google gets rid of APIs for Translate and other services". UberGizmo. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  24. ^ Burnette, Ed (May 27, 2011). "Google pulls the rug out from under web service API developers, nixes Google Translate and 17 others". ZDNet. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  25. ^ "Google cancels plan to shutdown Translate API. To start charging for translations". June 4, 2011. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 4, 2011. 
  26. ^ Statistical machine translation live, Franz Josef Och, Google Research Blog, April 28, 2006
  27. ^ Henderson, Fergus (November 5, 2010). "Giving a voice to more languages on Google Translate". Google Blog. Retrieved December 22, 2011. 
  28. ^ "Five more languages on Google Translate". Google Translate Blog. May 13, 2010. Retrieved December 22, 2011. 
  29. ^ Jakob Uszkoreit, Ingeniarius Programmandi (September 30, 2010). "Veni, Vidi, Verba Verti". Google Blog. Retrieved December 22, 2011. 
  30. ^ SVOX Archived December 26, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  31. ^ "Google Translate welcomes you to the Indic web". Google Translate Blog. 
  32. ^ Google Translate Blog: Tutmonda helplingvo por ĉiuj homoj
  33. ^ Brants, Thorsten (September 13, 2012). "Translating Lao". Google Translate Blog. Retrieved September 19, 2012. 
  34. ^ Crum, Chris (September 13, 2012). "Google Adds its 65th Language to Google Translate with Lao". WebProNews. Retrieved September 19, 2012. 
  35. ^ Bell, Lee (February 18, 2016). "Google Translate app now lets 99% of world population translate speech". Mail Online. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  36. ^ "Google adds Sindhi to its translate language options | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis". DNA India. Diligent Media Corporation Ltd. February 18, 2016. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  37. ^ "Google adds Sindhi to its translate language options". Yahoo! News. Asian News International. February 18, 2016. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  38. ^ Ahmed, Ali (February 18, 2016). "Google Translate now includes Sindhi and Pashto". Business Recorder. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  39. ^ "Google can now translate text into Sindhi, Pashto and vice versa". Dawn. February 19, 2016. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  40. ^ "Translate Community: Help us improve Google Translate!". 
  41. ^ a b Och, Franz (September 12, 2005). "Statistical Machine Translation: Foundations and Recent Advances" (PDF). Google. Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  42. ^ "Franz Och, Ph.D., Expert in Machine Learning and Machine Translation, Joins Human Longevity, Inc. as Chief Data Scientist" (Press release). La Jolla, CA: Human Longevity, Inc. July 29, 2014. Retrieved January 15, 2015. 
  43. ^ "Google seeks world of instant translations". ABC News. Retrieved November 8, 2015. 
  44. ^ Boitet, Christian; Blanchon, Hervé; Seligman, Mark; Bellynck, Valérie. "MT on and for the Web" (PDF). Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  45. ^ Google was an official sponsor of the annual Computational Linguistics in Japan Conference ("Gengoshorigakkai") in 2007. Google also sent a delegate to the meeting of the members of the Computational Linguistic Society of Japan in March 2005, promising funding to researchers who would be willing to share text data.
  46. ^ a b "Inside Google Translate". Google Translate. 
  47. ^ Google Switches to its Own Translation System, October 22, 2007
  48. ^ Barry Schwartz (October 23, 2007). "Google Translate Drops SYSTRAN for Home-Brewed Translation". Search Engine Land. 
  49. ^ Le, Quoc; Schuster, Mike (September 27, 2016). "A Neural Network for Machine Translation, at Production Scale". Google Research Blog. Google. Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  50. ^ "Subjunctive Mood". Twitter. May 15, 2013. 
  51. ^ "Google Translate doesn't really understand 'tu' and 'vous'. Particularly "tu".". Reddit. December 2, 2013. 
  52. ^ a b Ethan Shen, Comparison of online machine translation tools, archived from the original on February 10, 2011, retrieved December 15, 2010 
  53. ^ Christopher Pecoraro, "Microsoft Bing Translator and Google Translate Compared for Italian to English Translation",, retrieved April 8, 2012 
  54. ^ Christopher Pecoraro, "Microsoft Bing Translator and Google Translate Compared for Italian to English Translation (update)",, retrieved April 8, 2012 
  55. ^ Chrome extension Keyboard Shortcuts for Google Translate
  56. ^ Nielsen, Michael. Reinventing discovery: the new era of networked science. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-691-14890-8. 
  57. ^ Google Translate Tangles with Computer Learning Lee Gomes, Forbes Magazine, August 9, 2010
  58. ^ Google Translates Ivan the Terrible as "Abraham Lincoln" Archived January 11, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  59. ^
  60. ^ "Translate Community FAQ". Google. 
  61. ^ "New Google Crowdsource app asks you to help with translation and text transcription a few seconds at a time". Retrieved October 11, 2016. 

External links[edit]