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Has Google Made Learning a Second Language Obsolete?

Has Google Made Learning a Second Language Obsolete?

Rather quietly, considering the potential impact for future travelers, Google rolled out a new feature to Google Assistant: Real-time translation. It acts as a personal translator, turning Korean to English quickly enough for you to facilitate a conversation, flirt with someone in Farsi, or at least ask your waiter in Chengdu what’s good on the menu. While the feature initially rolled out at the beginning of this year to select Google Home devices, now it is available on any Assistant-enabled iOS and Android phones worldwide.

How It Works

Say “OK Google, help me speak [insert the other language you’d like to communicate in],” press the mic icon and the screen will translate and dictate anything said in either language. I’ve tested it out on my own Pixel 4xl and it works seamlessly. Two people who both have Google Assistant can carry on a conversation in only slightly delayed time–enough for the translator to say what you said in another language–making even prolonged communication pretty easy.

And, as far as I’ve seen, it’s fairly accurate and can pick up colloquialisms and even compensated for my terrible accent when I tried to repeat its English to German translation back to it. It works so well that the front desks of hotels like Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport have used it to help guests communicate with hotel staff in many of the 44 languages that Google’s interpreter is fluent in.

Previously, hotel staff had to dial into an in-house translation service to speak to guests in languages that they didn’t know.


What Does This Change?

As someone who travels frequently, having a tool like Google’s real-time interpreter (especially when used along with Google Translate which can be downloaded to work offline) makes me excited about the new doors this opens up for off-the-beaten path travel in far-flung places. As someone who is currently doing their best in their third year of Korean class, this new technology, and others like it, makes me wonder if learning another language will soon become much less necessary.


However you feel about your current language studies, you’ll find Google’s interprter mode already installed on your Android device (with the latest update). If you have an iPhone, you’ll have to download it from the app store.

View Comments (10)


  1. Fredd

    December 16, 2019 at 12:52 pm

    ” It acts as a personal translator, turning Korean to English quickly enough for you to facilitate a conversation or at least ask your waiter in Chengdu what’s good on the menu.”

    At least if you run into any Korean waiters in Chengdu. We didn’t on our visit there but others might be luckier.

  2. Fredd

    December 16, 2019 at 4:13 pm

    ” It acts as a personal translator, turning Korean to English quickly enough for you to facilitate a conversation or at least ask your waiter in Chengdu what’s good on the menu.”

    Chengdu is in China.

  3. carlosdca


    December 17, 2019 at 3:32 pm

    Do you learn another language to communicate at airports, restaurants hotels?
    Or do you learn another language to be able to understand their culture or have a fluid conversation with someone from another country?
    Is your intention to sit at the dinner table with a Chinese family and be looking at your phone all night long trying to catch up with the conversation?

  4. jahason

    December 18, 2019 at 12:44 am

    How is this different to Google Translate app?

  5. mhrb

    December 18, 2019 at 5:27 am

    Bettridge’s Law: No it hasn’t.

  6. AmericanCasey

    December 18, 2019 at 7:36 am

    Hi —

    Please fix “I tried to repeat it’s English to German.” This should be “its,” not “it’s.” It’s is a contraction for it is. Its is the possessive.


  7. Meg Butler

    December 18, 2019 at 9:44 am

    Fixed, thanks!

  8. kkua

    December 19, 2019 at 6:21 am

    Learn the foreign language and immerse yourself in their culture. You’ll only be enriched. This app encourages mediocrity and laziness. Call me old fashioned, but it’s not the way diplomacy is founded upon.

  9. rstruthe

    December 19, 2019 at 6:58 am

    Tried it on Spanish to english, absolutely useless! Definitely has not made learning a second language obsolete.

  10. ConnieDee

    January 24, 2020 at 9:18 am

    I was frustrated a few times in Italy when my bnb hosts kept using audio Google instead of trying to just communicate with me in my limited Italian. Google is one tool out of many, and it can provide important clarifications, but becoming dependent on it can stultify someone’s progress in a foreign language and general communicative skills. People who work with international tourists, for example, can always use more English practice (since English is the current lingua franca.)

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