Word Lens: An Indispensable Translation Tool

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You may not have read the writing on the wall, but with Google’s Word Lens app for smartphones and tablets, you’ll be able to read writing just about anywhere even if it’s written in French, German, Portuguese, Italian, or Russian.  If you think this sounds unbelievable, it is, but it works, and it works amazingly well.  And what’s even more incredible is that the last time I checked, the app was free at iTunes, as were the accompanying language packs.

I’m not sure who the original developer was, but Google owns it now.  It’s a feature that’s available for Google Glasses, and once you see how it works, you may want those, too.  Here’s an example:

Original French Text

Original French Text

Above is a random page from a French language magazine.  Since I use iPhones, I’ve launched the app on on old iPhone 4s.  By simply holding the phone’s camera over the text you’re interested in, the app does all the rest:

The Miracle of Word Lens

The Miracle of Word Lens

And, voila, “saisons de réjouissance”  magically becomes “seasons of rejoicing”.   For free, at least for now.  So if you haven’t loaded the app by now, I’m not really sure what you’re waiting for, but that’s entirely up to you.

In the meantime, Word Lens is an incredible tool for reading menus, historical plaques, signs, and banners.  It works for smaller text, but due to the limits of screen size and camera resolution, it takes a little more patience, sometimes translating only a couple of words at a time as you move across a page.  I have no complaints, though.  It’s an incredibly useful and powerful tool, and has saved me from ordering some distinctly unsavory dishes while making my visits to French museums and historical sites infinitely more meaningful than they otherwise would have been.

I haven’t used on a tablet, just my iPhones, so it may be even more amazing with a larger screen.  If you travel or need a quick translation tool, Word Lens is not optional.

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