If you travel, you know how important it is to learn the basics of the language where you are headed. You can’t go wrong if you know “please,” “thank you,” “where are the bathrooms,” and “pleased to meet you,” among other basic phrases. Here in Brazil, you might also want to know, “I’d like a caipirinha,” and “I don’t dance Samba.”

sambaBut prepare as you might, you’re going to run into problems with signage in any country. Is that “push” or “pull,” or can I park here or not? Things of that ilk.

Well, worry no more. If you have your smartphone with you, simply download Google Translate, and Bob’s your uncle!

Google has just added a great little feature to its application: sign reading! Here’s a link to an article about it, but briefly, all you have to do is point your phone at a sign or text, and Google translates it for you! In real time.

Here’s how it works. You select your languages (original and translated to), point the phone’s camera at the sign, and watch your screen.

For example, you see this sign:

weightWhen you place it in your viewfinder, Google Translate immediately translates from Portuguese to English:

weight2The feature works to translate between English and French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. According to the update note, the feature should work even without an Internet or data connection, though I haven’t tested that.

I can imagine that this is going to be imminently useful to me as we travel. It will get more powerful, of course, as they add more languages, particularly languages with a different alphabet.

I remember when my parents and younger brother and I were traveling in Greece, driving from Athens to Olympia on the Peloponnese. At one juncture, my dad drove around a traffic circle several times while John and I tried first to copy the road direction signs, and then translate them using Greek letters we knew from math. We finally deciphered Corinthos (Corinth), and were at last on our way.

This will be useful in grocery stores here, where I’m forever looking up the name of spices and fruits, and at restaurants, so I can read the ingredients in dishes to see if I’m allergic to anything.

If you have a smartphone and the Google Translate app, try it out. You can try it using your computer: just Google “Spanish road signs,” or “Italian road signs,” etc., and go to Images. It works!