When historians look back on the evolution of the Japanese language, they’ll look to January 26th, 2017 as the day kanji died. Because on that day in history, Google launched Word Lens in Japanese, and schoolchildren throughout Japan slammed shut their textbooks, tossed aside their calligraphy pens, and reached for their smartphones to conquer the notoriously difficult writing system once and for all.
Perhaps that’s a bit extreme, but Google’s new Google Translate add-on is no less revolutionary. Here’s how Word Lens works. Simply open the Google Translate app, hover your phone’s camera over Japanese text, and the app instantly translates the text into English on your screen. What’s more, you don’t need an internet connection for it to work.
The potential applications for Word Lens are endless. Language-learners, for example, can now check their kanji recognition skills real-time, and travelers will be able to navigate the streets of Tokyo with increased ease, which is an especially timely development with the 2020 Olympics on the horizon. Combined with revamped road signs and, yes, standardized bidet controls, this will certainly make Japan one of the most tourist-friendly non-English speaking countries in the world. The only downside is that, unlike the soon-to-be-released portable translator ili, Word Lens isn’t capable of translating spoken word (or sleazy pick-up lines). For now, anyway.
The speed at which translation technologies are evolving begs an important question: Will learning foreign languages one day become obsolete? Time will tell, but for now Google Word Lens is a handy tool in the toolbelt for language-learners and travelers alike.