A few months ago Google purchased the developer of the impressive WordLens app, which translates text and signs from another language into your own simply by pointing your camera at it. The text appears in your language through the lens, as if you had super-powered Translate-O-Vision. As with Waze and Google Maps, it looks like Google's own Translate app will soon see the benefit of that acquisition. Check out the screenshots below, taken from an upcoming version of Google Translate.
You can see WordLens' trademark feature at work in Google Translate above, where it's live-translating an English menu into Spanish without any kind of delay or recording. Here's the original image:
You can try out this functionality in the original WordLens app, which was made free after the Google acquisition. The initial rollout of Live Translate in Google Translate will work both ways between English and French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Unfortunately, the version of the app we've seen can only go to and from English - there's no way to translate from, say, Russian to Spanish with this live mode.
But there's good news if you're traveling, or often speak with people whose language you don't understand and vice versa. The awesome conversation mode, which is basically as close as you can get to a Star Trek-style universal translator, is going to be faster and easier in a future update. The current version of Translate requires the user to manually select each language in sequence, or let one person speak after the other in a very artificial fashion, kind of like a multi-lingual version of hot potato.
Note the center screenshot: "Speak now Hablar ahora," instructs both English and Spanish users to speak at once.
The updated app will actively listen for both languages currently activated, automatically translating (in this example) the Spanish-speaker's words into English and the English-speaker's words into Spanish. This will let both parties speak more naturally, with no waiting for each one to complete a long sentence or description if the other sees a correction that needs to be made. As long as you select the right to and from languages, both users should be able to speak and read or listen to the translation more or less continually.
We don't know when the updated app with these features will be available. (Don't ask us for an APK - if we could give it to you, we would.) But the implementation seems complete, or nearly so, so we can hope to see it in the next major Google Translate update.