Using Google Translate to read foreign books


SMF Supporter
Apr 28, 2018
First Name
Because of @Bobthestug's recent buy of a French-language magazine and a follow-up discussion about translating it, here’s a quick guide to using Google Translate.

What You Need
  • A smartphone or tablet.
  • The Google Translate app for it — download it from Google Play if you have an Android phone or tablet (that is, pretty much any make except Apple), or from the App Store if you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch (that is, an Apple device).


Once it’s been installed, start the app by tapping its icon as per usual. If it requests access to the camera, grant that permission, because that’s what it needs to be most useful.

1 Open Google Translate.jpg

With the app started as you can see above, near the top of the screen you can see two languages with ⇄ arrows between them. On the left is the “from” language, on the right the “to” language. Tap on them to be able to select the relevant language for both. If you’re not sure of the language you’ll be translating from, you can choose “Detect language” so the app will try to work it out for you. This is not guaranteed to be correct, but often is.

2 Choose language.jpg

If you intend to use the app only while you have an Internet connection, this is all you need to do. However, should you have a need to also be able to translate without an Internet connection, tap the downward arrow symbol ⤓ next to the language. This will download the necessary information for the language to your device, so you can also use it when you’re offline. However, this takes up a fair amount of space on your device for each language, so you’ll probably only want to do this for ones you actually foresee needing while you’re offline.

You can quickly swap the “from” and “to” languages by tapping the ⇄ arrows. This is useful mainly if you need to translate something the other way as well.

There are several ways to have the app translate things for you. I’ll only cover the ones useful for our purposes here — you generally don’t need voice translation for modelling, I suppose, so I’ll skip that, for example.

Typing In Text

The first way is to type in the text you want translated (or paste it, if you’ve copied it from a document, web site, or similar). It’s handy if you just need the odd couple of words or a short phrase, but not for large chunks of text.

Just tap where it says “Enter text” so that the keyboard pops up and you can type. The translation will appear below it immediately, if available.

3 Direct text.jpg

You can delete the text you typed by pressing the cross in the upper right corner.

Using the Camera

This way is more useful for translating modelling books, articles etc. than having to type things in, because it’s much less work. I’ll be using the following book for this demonstration:

4 Book.JPG

It’s in Russian, which means I’ll of course choose that language at the top of the screen in the way I showed above.

Tap the camera icon on the left side of the screen. The screen will change to a view from the camera with the chosen languages at the top (you can change them here like before) and three options at the bottom: “Instant”, “Scan” and “Import”.

Note: If you need more light, hit the “lightning bolt” icon at the top tight to turn on the flash. (This is probably not present if your device has no flash. In that case you’ll need to move somewhere the light is better :smiling3:)

The instant translation tries to do just that: provide you with an immediate translation of the things you see on-screen. Just aim it at the text like it directs you to on the screen and hold it steady, you’ll see the text change. However, this is very jittery: move the device a little — or even keep it perfectly still — and chances are that the translation will change before your eyes.

5 Live translate.jpg

As mentioned, this is useful for short bits of text, like when you’re wondering what the title of a book is, but not for actually reading longer pieces of text. You can hit the “Pause translation” button to freeze the screen so it stops skipping (this makes a “camera” sound but doesn’t appear to actually take a photo).

The scan translation is better for longer pieces of text. Tap it in the bottom centre of the screen and the instant translation will stop, but you’ll get a circle on the right, which you use to take a photo with. Make sure you have all the text you want translated on-screen and press that circle.

6 Text to translate.jpg

A blue line now moves back and forth across the screen to show the app is scanning the photo for text, and then it will put white rectangles around all the text it has found. (This works well but is not perfect, so you may need to try more than once to get it to find it all. If so, it often helps to move in closer, so the text gets larger on your screen.)

Then just swipe your finger across the words you want translated, and the white boxes will highlight in blue. You don’t need to move all in one direction, but can go back and forth — the app is smart enough to put the words together in the right order, regardless of how you swipe through them to select them. If you want another piece, just swipe there — this will unselect the words you selected previously.

You can also zoom in and out by putting two fingers on screen and pulling them apart or moving them closer together, which will let you select specific bits of text more easily.

The text you selected will appear at the top of the screen: the original in the grey box, its translation in the blue one underneath.

7 Text selected.jpg

If the text is too long to fit in this, you can swipe from right to left on it to scroll the rest into view (and the other way to get back to the start).

You can get back to the main screen by pressing the × icon in the upper right corner of the screen. There is one problem here: if you want to translate more on the same page, you will have to take another picture. Click on the camera icon again and go through the same steps. It would be nice if you could go back to the photo you took earlier, but I haven’t found a way to do that :sad:

Using the Translation Elsewhere

Having a bit of text translated is very nice, but what if you want to assemble the whole translated text for your own use? Press the blue arrow button to the right of the translated text, and it will take you to a screen with the whole selected text and the translated text.

8 Translation.jpg

Again, the translation is on a blue field, which has a couple of icons on its lower right.
  • The colourful G on a white disc will use the translated text as a search term in your web browser (or the Google app, if you have that on your device).
  • The square with an upward arrow is for sharing the translation. This is the one that’s probably most useful: it lets you copy the text to the clipboard, for example, put it into an e-mail, or more. The exact options depend on what apps you have on your device as well as whether it’s an Android or an Apple device (my screenshot is of an iPad, so it’s Apple).
  • The square with open sides puts the translation over the whole screen, for easy reading or showing to other people, I suppose. Use the “Balkenkreuz” icon at the top right to get back to the previous view.
  • The double rectangle icon, the right-most one, copies the translated text to the clipboard.
By copying the text to the clipboard, you can paste it into any other app, like a word processor, an e-mail message or whatever else you like.

Apple users have an additional bonus here: switch on the Universal Clipboard on both your iPhone/iPad/iPod touch and another device, and you can copy text on one of them and paste it on another. Here, for example, on my iPad I copied the translation I made, then pasted it in the TextEdit app on my Mac computer:

9 Text Edit.jpg

Clearing Your Translation History

The Google Translate app keeps a history of the things you translated, eventually cluttering up a lot, especially if you’ve had to do a few attempts. You can remove individual ones by putting your finger on them and swiping to the right, which “wipes” them off the screen.

10 Delete translation.jpg

If you want rid of all of them, tap the Settings icon (the cog) at the bottom, then scroll all the way down to the red “Clear Translation History” button and tap that. Confirm this is what you want to do, and press the Home button again to get back to the main screen.
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Stuck in a Stug universe
SMF Supporter
Apr 28, 2018
First Name
Excellent many thanks Jakko for taking the time.

Been using it this morning but your info greatly helps to do more!