What Is Google Translate?

By James T. Cains

If you need to be able to translate words or phrases from one language to another, Google Translate can be a helpful tool. It’s not like an English-to-Some-Other-Language dictionary that contains the words of one language and their corresponding translations. Rather, Google Translate takes the word or phrase that your type and then searches the Internet for the best translation from the billions of expertly translated documents out there. Nearly instantly, it provides you with that search result in the form of a translation.

Just like other online translation tools, Google Translate is far from perfect. It does have a good reputation for accuracy, but it does make mistakes — or rather, it returns inaccurate translation search results. So you’ll want to use it with caution. It’ll probably work fine in casual situations, such as ordering dinner in a different language in a restaurant, but if you rely on it for official business communications, be very careful.

To do a basic translation using Google Translate on your computer, follow these steps:

  1. Open a Web browser and go to translate.google.com. You don’t need a Google account to access it, because it’s free to all.

  2. On the left, choose the language you’re translating from. It shows you buttons for three popular languages, or you can choose a language from the drop-down menu.

  3. In the text box on the left, type in the word or phrase you want to translate.

  4. On the right, choose the language you want the word or phrase translated into.

  5. Click Translate.

The translation appears in the text box on the right (see Figure 1). The icons at the bottom of the text box enable you to do a few things with the word or phrase:

  • Click the Star icon to add the word or phrase to your personal Phrasebook. You have to be logged in to your Google account for this.

  • Click the Select All icon to copy and paste the word or phrase into another document.

  • Click the Speaker icon to listen to the pronunciation of the word or phrase in that language.

To see other translations of the same word or phrase, all you have to do is choose a different language on the right.

Google Translate is not a substitute for learning fluency in a language. If you still want to learn to speak Spanish, French, or Chinese, you still have to take language classes, study hard, and practice. But it can be a useful tool if you quickly need to translate a word or phrase, especially when you’re on the go.

Figure 1: Google Translate in action.

Figure 1: Google Translate in action.