Navigation tools like Google Maps have practically rendered bulky atlases and hard-to-fold paper maps obsolete, and now they’re offering another tool to help travelers blend in like a local. 

closeup of a woman's hand using her smart phone on the street
Google Translate is now integrated into Google Maps to help translate foreign place names and addresses © LDprod/Shutterstock

This past fall, the tech giant announced that Google Maps and Google Translate would begin working in tandem, with a translator feature that pronounces places’ names and locations in unfamiliar languages. A speaker button now appears next to each address, and when it’s pressed, text-to-speech technology detects your phone’s default language and reads it out loud.

Young businessman with a suitcase arriving in Valencia and texting on the phone.
With the click of a button, the app will read the proper pronunciation out loud © martin-dm/Getty Images

“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,” Google Maps product manager Laszlo de Brissac wrote in the blog post introducing the new component. “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.”

A gif of the Google Maps app translating and pronouncing a street name
The new feature was made available in the fall © Google Maps

The translator rolled out in November on Android and iOs with support for 50 languages. But if the in-app pronunciation doesn’t do the trick, Maps now links directly to Google Translate to facilitate the conversation – and the tools there have also gotten a recent boost.  

In December, Google announced that it had beefed up its offline translation, a boon for those who travel in airplane mode to avoid roaming and data charges. “In 59 languages, offline translation is 12% more accurate, with improved word choice, grammar and sentence structure,” wrote Google Translate product manager Sami Iqram. “In some languages like Japanese, Korean, Thai, Polish, and Hindi the quality gain is more than 20%.

A gif of Google Translate's camera function, translating a picture of a sign
Google Translate's instant camera translation now offers support for more languages © Google Translate

That improvement follows the news, from July, that the app’s instant camera translation also received an upgrade. All you have to do is point your camera at the text, and the lens will automatically detect your language and translate, from the 88 languages the feature supports, into any of the 100-plus languages the app supports – offline or on. 

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