Mind your Google language

While we carry on in our Anglophone world, assuming that English is the general lingua franca of the world wide web, it’s worth pointing out that English accounts for just under 28% in terms of usage in the web as of December 2009.

Search interest in “translate” related keywords continues to grow and Google wants to break the language barrier. This is how they are doing it.

Google Translate:

Now on 57 languages as of this month and counting, Google Translate seeks to help us move seamlessly between Urdu and Swahili with little effort. Enter text, a webpage URL, or upload a document to translate.google.com, and it will detect the source language and translate it to the target of your choice instantly. They also added text-to-speech support for English translations — just click the speaker icon to hear your translation. In addition, there’s a Translated Search option — search for pages in Spanish, for example, and display results in English.

Chrome Plugin:

This extension by the Google Translate team skips the 21 seconds required to cut-and-paste a webpage URL and will translate the page you are browsing on the fly. While you can’t expect perfect translation, you can understand the meaning and that’s all that you need most of the time. It’s very similar to Firefox’s BabelFish add-on, but BabelFish only does an inferior 42 languages, and it relies on Google and Yahoo to do the translation work.

Google Goggles:

In a very recent development, Google Goggles just got a translation update. We now know the power of Goggles, which is seeking to describe pretty much every recognisable object under the sun.  Google has upped the ante and has enabled it to read text and translate it right before your eyes. In a world that is getting smaller and smaller, this may have huge implications in how we go about discovering foreign lands. Think street directions and food menus made easy.


Google’s speech recognition has come a long way. There’s voice search and the ability to search for spoken words on YouTube and to skip to the portion where that word is spoken. For some time now, they have also been developing a speech-to-speech automated translator for their Android phones. You simply speak into your phone in say English, and it will spew out French, Dutch, Spanish etc.

Likely Implications:

The future of web, search and how we consume and deliver material between different languages, is set to be very interesting. While the web continues to swiftly change us into a smaller global village, the need to learn foreign languages may no longer be useful. On the flipside, English could lose its status as the global lingua franca and the need to learn it will become less relevant, thereby preserving a whole host of other languages.



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