Word Lens: Magic in Action

I am here today to talk to you about magic. Honest to god, modern day sorcery. Well, it’s actually technology but for once, I’m not sure of the difference. So I have a friend who I’m going to call Gask (because that’s his name) and he messaged me saying that there was an app I should try out, and so I did. And I marvelled at it for five minutes. And now I’m going to tell you about it.

Word Lens (click here for the iOS version and here for the Android version) is a mobile phone app that allows you to point your camera at text in a foreign language and have it translated straight away, on the screen. The words literally change from one language to another in front of you. (Check out this promo video for an accurate portrayal of how it works.) You know what that means? No more having to go to online dictionaries to figure out if that sign in a shop window means they’re shut. No wishing Google translate would work quicker when presented with a menu that you don’t understand. No more carrying “pocket” dictionaries around when abroad so you can understand train timetables.

This is magic. This is like a TARDIS translation circuit for your phone. This is having a babelfish in your hands. In my relatively short life there have been many technological advancements and this is the first one that has ever made me speechless.

I mean, it’s not actually witchcraft. Looks like it, but isn’t. According to my technological advisor, (otherwise known as Gask) the Word Lens app uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) which reads text using your phone’s camera and interprets it. The app then separates each word, translates it and replaces what is already there. Gask could have stopped there in his explanation and I would still have been blown away. But apparently the cleverest part of the app is that the removes the old text, blurs the background and applies the new text in the same size in real time (aka pretty much instantaneously). This means that the coding and graphics rendering must be super efficient.  

It’s not a perfect app. It uses a local translation library, meaning it’s as if the app looks up each word in a dictionary, which does mean that sentences don’t always make sense. Kind of like how if you translate whole paragraphs with Google translate, coherency and some meaning is usually lost. (Don’t use Google translate for coursework, guys. Teachers can tell. Because it’s not good.) The other thing is that the languages (Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian) are all translated to or from English. You can’t point it at Spanish and have the Russian translation come up. I mean, that works for me, because English is my native language, but obviously that isn’t the case for everyone.

However, the app is really easy to use and it’s genius. It has a normal dictionary built in as well, and you have the option of putting your flash on, so the words you’re trying to translate are easier to see. It is also free and just for the sheer joy of having magic on your phone, it’s worth downloading. It’d be useful for when you’re abroad as well. But mostly download it because it’s magic. And it is always worth having magic in your life.

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