Real-Time Translation via Headphone?

Hayley Tsukayama reviews “Google’s translating headphones” for the Washington Post:

Google has set out to make its mark on the headphone world with Pixel Buds — wireless headphones that can control your phone and that claim to translate conversations in real time. But how do they stack up? Google sent us a pair to review to find out. […]

To be honest, it’s not exactly real-time. You call up the feature by tapping on your right earbud and asking Google Assistant to “help me speak” one of 40 languages. The phone will then open the Google Translate app. From there, the phone will translate what it hears into the language of your choice, and you’ll hear it in your ear. So, if you’re speaking to someone and they say “Où est la bibliothèque?” you will then hear “Where is the library?” in your ear. Then, when it’s your turn to speak, tap and hold the right earbud to have what you say translated and broadcast out of your phone.

The translation feature is promising but not perfect. Translation doesn’t happen at conversational speed — this is not Star Trek’s universal translator or Douglas Adams’s Babel fish. Still, it is much better than a phrase book. While human translators need not fear that they may be without a job, it could be good for travelers or others who want to have a simple, if somewhat halting, chat in another language.

It’s an interesting idea and I’m glad to have read about it (thanks, Eric!), but I might not have posted it except that it gives me a hook on which to hang this anecdote from Anatoly Vorobey (quoting Liza Rozovsky): “When I asked him why he had left, he talked for a long time in German, and finally the telephone answered me [i.e., translated his answer] in a female voice: ‘Because I was stupid.'”


  1. Forget Google Translate. If possible, hook up the earbuds to DeepL It is far better. I know because I use it almost every day via GT4T Of course, I can only speak for SpanishEnglish. It’s far from perfect, but it will often return some surprisingly good translations of phrases and short sentences.

  2. Thanks for the link. I tried DeepL and it’s very impressive.

    It almost manages to make sense out of Hegel!

    DeepL attempt at translating that Hegel’s quote from Aufheben thread:

    “The Now is shown, this Now. Now; it has already ceased to be by being shown; the now, that is, is a different one than the one shown, and we see that the now is this one by being already no more. The now as it is shown to us, it is a been, and this is its truth; it does not have the truth of being.”

    Better translation than David M’s, I am afraid.

  3. It almost manages to make sense out of Hegel!
    As I already said in the other thread, no translation that makes sense of Hegel can be a good translation; it must have got something wrong. 😉

  4. It’s easy with European languages. Let me know when DeepL adds Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian. Then it might be worth taking seriously.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    Better translation than David M’s, I am afraid.

    It’s good, but it fails at the commas: the ones in the now, that is, is a different one than the one shown are obligatory in German, but wrong and misleading in English, where , that is, is a way to introduce an example or explanation. The original is about “the now which is”, “which exists”.

    It also fails at genuinely difficult expressions: “it is a been” is much clumsier than the original es ist ein gewesenes, but the literal “it is a been one” is at least as clumsy in English; I can only explain it as “it is one that was (and is no more)”…

  6. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    Is it a has-been?

  7. David Marjanović says:

    That comes with connotations that don’t apply here…

  8. Great Wit is Nature to Advantage dresst;
    What Hegel said, but lucidly expressed.

  9. True Wit

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