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Mobile Apps

Google Translate app adds 20 more languages for instant translation via your camera

By week's end, the Android and iOS app will offer instant translation in a total of 27 languages.

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Google's Translate app can now handle instant translation for 27 different languages. screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Google is expanding the repertoire of its Translate app to handle the instant translation or more than two dozen different languages.

Designed for both iOS and Android, the Google Translate app is adding 20 new languages. You'll be able to translate to and from English with Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Filipino, Finnish, Hungarian, Indonesian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Swedish, Turkish and Ukrainian. For Hindi and Thai, you'll be able to do one-way translations from English.

Counting English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, that makes for a total of 27 languages that the app will be able to instantly translate. And what exactly is meant by instant translation?

You can point your mobile device's camera to a sign, book or other text written in a foreign language, and it will instantly translate it into the language of your choice.

The update is rolling out over the next few days, so you may not see it right away. But it should pop up by the end of the week.

Google also offers a translation feature via its website search results and directly through its Chrome browser. But there's clearly a need for portable, on-the-go translation.

The company faces potential competition from Skype Translator, which will be bundled with the Skype for Windows desktop app by the end of summer. The challenge for Google Translate and Skype Translator alike is to translate text on the fly and do it as quickly and accurately as possible, a la Star Trek's universal translator. Accuracy is key as using machine technology to translate certain phrases and colloquialisms is still a challenge.

The Google Translate app offers three ways to translate text. You can simply type the text you want translated. Google Translate supports 90 languages for text-based translation. You can speak the text. Or you can point your mobile device's camera at a sign, book or other object with text on it and watch as that text is automatically translated into the language of your choice. No Internet connection is required, so you can use the visual translation offline.

Google is also promising smoother, more natural conversation, even on a slow mobile network.

"In many emerging markets, slow mobile networks can make it challenging to access many online tools -- so if you live in an area with unreliable mobile networks, our other update today is for you," Barak Turovsky, product lead for Google Translate, said in a blog post on Wednesday.

To help improve its app's translation skills, Google relies on the Translate Community. At this site, people can correct any translation that Google gets wrong and type in their own phrases and translations. But even with the help of the Translate Community and today's update, there's still more to be done to enhance Google Translate's skill set.

"We've still got lots of work to do: more than half of the content on the Internet is in English, but only around 20 percent of the world's population speaks English," Turovsky said. "Today's updates knock down a few more language barriers, helping you communicate better and get the information you need."