Travel & Leisure

Real-Time Translation in Your Ear

Now your phone can let you understand someone speaking any of 40 languages—and let you talk back

By Lola Augustine Brown

Imagine standing on a street in Madrid and getting directions from a stranger even though you failed Spanish 101. A feature in Google’s new Pixel 2 smartphone will let you do just that: you just ask your phone to translate for you and you’ll hear the directions in English via Bluetooth-connected wireless earbuds that pair up with the phone. Using Google Translate, Pixel Buds will translate 40 different languages—for now—allowing a user to communicate with someone else even though neither person speaks the other’s language.

The ability to translate online has been around for a while, and users have been able to use Google Translate with voice-recognition for some time. Plus, there are various other apps that you can use on your smartphone that work similarly. What’s different with the Pixel Buds is that you have a translator in your ear, listening and translating in real time, so that you can have in-the-moment conversations. Earlier this year, Google‘s CEO told investors that the company had improved its translation tech more in the last year than in the previous 10 together.

Translation isn’t the earbuds’ sole or even primary function: simply, they provide another way to communicate with your phone.

Available before the end of the year (some reports specify “in November”), the Pixel 2 and the Pixels Buds will be sold in Canada at Best Buy and through The Google Store.

If you’ve never used any of Google’s existing translation services online, you can try them for free; the results are mind-blowingly good most of the time—and can be rather amusing when things go wrong. Google Translate currently works with more than 100 languages.


Photo: iStock/mikkelwilliam (woman); Google (phone and buds).