Adios Translators, Bonjour Google Translate

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By Arjun Seth > Sophomore > English and Creative Writing > George Washington University
You’re walking through China during your study abroad trip on a crisp spring afternoon when you’re jumped from behind. The assailant is wailing in Cantonese while you make the I-just-sucked-on-a-lemon face, and you’re scared and confused. Years ago, you would need a Chinese speaking friend or translator to figure out what’s going on. Today, you can flip open your cell phone, whip out the Google Translate application, and have your international irritation erased. 



Google Translate has gone mainstream in the better half of the past decade, becoming an essential tool for anybody who has ever surfed the web. During a 2004 meeting at Google headquarters, Google co-founder Sergey Brin introduced an email to his employees. The email praised Google’s search engine and products but was written in Korean. Their translation software at the time spit out “The sliced raw fish shoes it wishes. Google green onion thing!” Needless to say, Google needed to improve their program.
In the last six years, Google Translate has expanded to 52 languages, is accessed hundreds of millions of times a week, and can translate text, web pages, (and as of 2010) even voice. March 2010 press releases from Google show their mobile phone software Android will be sporting a new application Google calls Goggles. With this application, anyone can snap a picture of the foreign text and receive a translation within seconds, according to Franz Och, Google’s Head of Translation Services.
As foreign exchange students, international travelers, and tourists around the world rejoice in Google’s gift, the global language barrier begins to crumble. 
As a user of Google Translate, international student Jungyoon Kim from South Korea knows exactly how practical and indispensable this technology is.
“It took some time to get used to. Especially since English in America is used everywhere. Sometimes you just need a little help, and I used to translate things into Korean to help me understand.”
But, as with any work-in-progress, translations will not be up to par with everyday speech for some time, says Chris Gourlay of Times Online. 
For the 21st century college student, always on the go and always digitally connected, applications and products such as Google Translate can help them cheat through classes and foreign language requirements. With its mobile application and accessibility, students can bypass learning languages in classes and can speed to the finish line with translations in the palm of their hand.
Still, schools around the country have embraced Google’s applications for their ease of use, cost efficiency, and boost in academic performance. Eric Hawley, Utah State University’s Associate VP for Technology has said, “Had we not gone with the Google solution, we’d be looking at proposing a significant increase in student fees.” 
Google is convinced it will break the Great Wall of Languages in the coming years, even developing the first
phone able to translate foreign languages almost instantly. The technology is a few years ahead of its time, but still language majors and translators beware: Google is outsourcing your once-essential skill.

photo from



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