When learning a foreign language, a few key words and phrases are essential—like bathroom, train station, and, “How much does this cost?” But what about phrases that are a bit less common? We often need to repeat more random word strings as we travel across the globe for work, school, or vacation.
On Thursday, Google revealed an answer to this dilemma with a new feature for Google Translate called Phrasebook, which stores your most essential key phrases and words in various languages.
For example, if you review hotels for a living, “What is that smell?” might be an important phrase to have handy whether you're hunkered down in Paris, Jakarta, or Moscow. And if you're absolutely committed to daily yoga classes, "Where can I find the nearest Ashtanga studio?" might be relevant whether you're in Belgium or Brazil. Whatever your important translations are, Phrasebook can keep them for later access, saving you from constantly retyping the same few words into Google Translate.
To use Phrasebook, you must be signed into your Google account. Saving new translations into Phrasebook is similar to the way you bookmark a web page in Google Chrome. Once you’ve entered your phrase and received a translation you like, hit the star icon at the bottom of the translation window and it is automatically saved to Phrasebook.
To view your Phrasebook, just click on the little notebook icon in the top right corner of Google Translate. This displays a list of your translated phrases and words, including audio pronunciations when available. Your Phrasebook is also searchable, and you can filter your translations by language pairs such as English>French, English>Hebrew, or Russian>Spanish.
Wanted: Mobile edition
The downside is that Phrasebook appears to be a desktop-only feature for now, and is not on the mobile version of Google Translate for smartphones and tablets. Thankfully, you can get around this mobile limitation on Chrome for Android and iOS by tapping the “Request desktop site” feature. Also currently missing in Phrasebook is an export feature or an offline mode to access your phrases without an Internet connection.
Phrasebook also highlights one of the limitations of Google Translate. If you’re translating a phrase into a common European language such as French or German, then Google Translate tends to be pretty good, albeit overly literal at times. But if you get a little more exotic, the service can quickly go off the rails.
If you’re trying to figure out how to translate “latte” to Hebrew, for example, the best answers are pronounced “café hafuch” or “hafuch,” which is the most common term for the drink and literally means “upside down.” But entering “latte,” “café latte,” “cappuccino,” or “caffe latte” turned up four different answers in Google Translate. The good news is only one of the translations was completely incorrect.
Google Translate can be an effective tool, but be careful about the phrases and words you save to your Phrasebook. Otherwise, Google’s handy translation tool can make you look overly formal or completely outdated in your understanding of common phrases during your next trip to Beijing. If you’re not careful it may even make you look like a 假的.
This story, "Google Translate now stores key sayings in custom Phrasebook" was originally published by TechHive.