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Google Maps is rolling out a Star Trek-style universal translator for foreign travelers

Google Maps is rolling out a Star Trek-style universal translator for foreign travelers
[Photo: Drew Willson/Unsplash]

Google Maps is introducing a cool feature this month that will make navigating a foreign country where you don’t speak the local language easier. Leveraging the company’s Translate text-to-speech technology, Google Maps will automatically speak text using the language of the country you’re currently in. That text could be the address of your hotel, for example, or the name of a local landmark.

But why would you need Maps to say the address of your hotel in the local language? In a blog post, Google Maps project manager Laszlo de Brissac does a good job of highlighting a situation most travelers have been in before:

Google Maps has made travel easier than ever before. You can scout out a neighborhood before booking a hotel, get directions on the go and even see what nearby restaurants the locals recommend thanks to auto-translated reviews.

But when you’re in a foreign country where you don’t speak or read the language, getting around can still be difficult, especially when you need to speak with someone. Think about that anxiety-inducing time you tried to talk to a taxi driver, or that moment you tried to casually ask a passerby for directions.

[Video: courtesy of Google]
With the new text-to-speech feature, you no longer have to look like an idiot pointing to an app to tell your driver where you want to go. Instead, just pull up the location in Google Maps and tap the new audio button by the name or address of the listing to have it read aloud in the local language. Your driver will instantly understand where your destination is.

As de Brissac explains, the “text-to-speech technology automatically detects what language your phone is using to determine which places you might need help translating. For instance, if your phone is set to English and you’re looking at a place of interest in Tokyo, you’ll see the new speaker icon next to the place’s name and address so you can get a real-time translation.”

The new text-to-speech feature will roll out this month for iOS and Android users. Upon launch, it will support 50 languages, with additional ones planned for the future.

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