How to use Google Translate Anywhere, Anytime

Google Translate is one of the best tools I have ever used to learn languages. In fact, it helped me learn Spanish in 1 month. Here is how it can do the same for your target language.

Just Google translate what you want to say

From 2011-2012 I lived and worked in the Dominican Republic (DR) where I met Juan Arancibia; a Chilean national who spoke English and Spanish. I made a deal with him to help him with his English and he would help me with my Spanish.

Everything I wanted to say to him, I would do it in Spanish. In order to do this, I needed to find a quick way to be able to look up the words and sentences I wanted to say; something I could use on the go. That’s when I discovered Google translate.

Life became so much easier. I just opened up the website, translated what I wanted to say and then said it.

It was simple enough, but back then it was just a website – so I always needed the internet, which was annoying when I didn’t have a strong cell signal or Wi-Fi connection available.

Fast forward to today and you can download the app to your android device or iPhone. The app is much better suited for when you are out and about! Best part is that you can use it offline as well.

Google has done an incredible job on their App. I’m going to walk you through it and show you exactly how you can make the most of it!

Main screen

This is the main screen on the app. Here you will find:

  • The menu – for more options
  • The input language – this is the language you want to translate from (Catalan in this case)
  • The output language – this is the language you want to translate into (English in this case)
  • The input section – this is where you enter the words or phrases you want to translate
  • Previous translations – Google translate saves earlier translations for quick reference
  • New features – Any new features that have been added with app updates

Some things like choosing the input and output languages, new features section and previous translations are obvious, but let’s go through the others one at a time.

The input section is where you will enter the word or sentence that you want to translate. There are 4 ways you can do this.

  • Typing
  • Taking a photo of typed or hand written text
  • Speaking
  • Handwriting directly into the phone

The first and most obvious is manually typing the word and sentence directly into the screen. Here I typed in “my name is ahmed” to get the translation in Spanish, which is “mi nombre es Ahmed.”

This is pretty straightforward.

Taking a photo of written text

But sometimes you need to translate some text like from a menu at a rooftop patio in Barcelona (where I am at the time of this writing).

Why waste time typing everything out when you can just use your camera to take pictures with your phone and translate written or typed text. Just tap on the camera icon and focus the camera lens over the text you want to translate

As an example, I hand wrote and translated “Hello my name is Ahmed” into Spanish.

The app will highlight all the words and you can select the one you want to translate or hit “Select All” at the bottom to translate the entire sentence.


An alternate option is speaking directly into the phone. Just select the microphone icon that shows up on the main screen of the app and then speak into the phone.

I’ve personally never needed to use this option. I simply just type in whatever I need to translate. This is easy when you need to translate from/to a language that uses the English alphabet.

But sometimes you need to use Chinese or Arabic or Greek letters. In this case it’s simpler to just speak rather than figure out the letters and type it out.

I used Arabic as an example by speaking “Mabrook” into the phone which means “Congratulations.”

Interestingly I typed in “mabrook” (using English letters) as well and the app correctly recognized what I meant and even confirms if this is the word in Arabic (see “did you mean”). If this doesn’t work, it’s easy enough to speak into the app.

google translate can recognize words from different languages even when written in english


Lastly, you can choose to hand write what you need to translate. I used “mabrook” as an example again but wrote it in Arabic.

Google translate can interpret handwriting in different language

This goes to show how powerful the Google translate app is. It even recognizes my atrocious handwriting and correctly translates it.

But wait, there’s more!

Hit the menu button and you’ll find a few other options you can work with.

Google translate menu

Let’s go through them one at a time.

Create a phrasebook

Each translation that you make can be saved in the phrasebook by hitting the star next to it. You can access saved phrases or word translations later through the menu.

The most recent translations will always show up in the history on the main screen but they get replaced by newer ones. You might find that you need some translations more than others so it’s useful to save them in the phrasebook.

I’m in Barcelona right now and I often ask for my food to be packed after a meal so I can take it to the hotel with me, but for some reason I could not seem to remember how to say it in Catalan. So I use Google Translate to figure it out over and over.

After a couple of times of typing it out, I just saved the translation to my phrasebook.

Interestingly I haven’t forgotten that “para portir” or “para llevar” means “take out” in Catalan/Spanish since saving it to my phrasebook!

Translate text messages

I thought this was pretty cool. I only get text messages in other languages when I’m traveling to the Middle East (Arabic) or sometimes in Europe (the language depends on where I am in Europe).

It’s frustrating not understanding what the message says. Luckily Google translate has a good solution for this. Just use the SMS translation feature.

I got a friend to send me a text message in Arabic and then used Google Translate to translate it. All you have to do is go into the menu, select “SMS Translation” and the app will bring up all of your text messages. Then select which message you would like to translate.

Google translate anywhere, anytime

You also don’t need to be connected to the internet anymore. Just download the language files you need to your phone ahead of time. To do this access the settings tab, then select “offline translations” then select the language file you want to download.

You can see in the list I’ve already downloaded the Spanish language file. You can download multiple language files ahead of time and keep them on hand.

Cool isn’t it? Google translate is great! Get the app and use it often, it is truly one of the most useful tools I have come across and is one of my favorite apps. I don’t travel without it!

What are some of your favorite apps/tools/tricks for language learning? Be sure to let me know in the comments below, I want to hear from you

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