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Google Translate’s Word Lens now works like magic with Japanese

This is the closest thing to a Universal Translator that we've got.


Christina Bonnington


Published Jan 26, 2017   Updated May 25, 2021, 3:20 am CDT

One place I’ve always wanted to visit is Japan, but there’s one small problem: I have zero understanding of Japanese Kanji. That could make navigating the island nation’s restaurants, shops, and public transit system quite challenging. Luckily, the latest update to the Google Translate app makes that problem a thing of the past.

Now, Google Translate’s Word Lens feature can identify and translate Japanese characters to English. Word Lens uses your phone’s camera to translate text it sees into the language of your choice in real time. Previously, you could use the app to snap a picture and then translate the text, but if you are on a crowded Tokyo subway station trying to decide which train to catch, time is of the essence. With this latest update, you can simply direct your phone’s camera at Japanese characters and overlaid onscreen will be the translated text.

The app is even able to do this (for a total of 52 languages now) without a data connection.

Google Translate is free on iOS and Android.

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*First Published: Jan 26, 2017, 6:15 am CST