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Google Translate
Like magic.

Watch Google Translate decipher foreign signs in real time

By Adam Epstein

Google’s Translate app is trying even harder to turn you into a polyglot—or at least the closest thing to it. The latest update to its mobile app is basically like having a translator following you around wherever you go, whispering answers in your ear, and rewriting foreign words in front of your face.

In the app’s update, Google integrated Word Lens, a company it acquired last year, whose technology visually translates signs or text when you point your phone in camera mode at it. You’ll never sit baffled by a menu in Moscow or Lisbon again.

Google Translate

Unfortunately, it only works from English to and from French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, but Google says it’s working on implementing more languages. But here’s some better news: The app doesn’t need a Wi-Fi or data connection to work, so you don’t have to worry about outrageous data charges when you’re using it outside your home country.

The updated app also improves its voice features. Say a word or phrase into your phone, and the app will quickly say it back to you in your desired language. It’s not always totally accurate, but it’s certainly useful for most basic phrases. Here’s a quick demonstration:

The product may seem revolutionary, but Google is far from the only company offering it. In December, Skype (owned by Microsoft) previewed its instant interpreting technology—though at the moment it only works in English and Spanish.