It promises to be a globetrotter's dream come true.
Rolled out this week in the newest version of the Google Translate for Android appliction, the "conversation mode" feature lets speakers of different languages communicate with each other in near real-time.
In a blog post Wednesday, Google product manager Awaneesh Verma said the "experimental feature" is still in its early stages and currently only translates between English and Spanish. But the potential is in incredible, especially considering that the Google Translate app already supports 53 languages.
"Because this technology is still in alpha, factors like regional accents, background noise or rapid speech may make it difficult to understand what you're saying," he wrote. "Even with these caveats, we're excited about the future promise of this technology to be able to help people connect across languages."
Say you're traveling in Barcelona and need directions to your hotel. You just activate the "conversation mode" in Google Translate, turn on the microphone and speak your question into the phone in English. The app translates your question and then asks it out loud in Spanish.
When the person you're speaking with answers in Spanish, the app serves as interpreter again by giving you the response in spoken English.
Google demonstrated the feature at an event in September, but announced this week that Android users can now try out "converation mode" for themselves.
"This really is history, because for 50 years people have talked about being able to do what you just demoed," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said after the September demonstration.
In December, an application for Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch impressed the Internet with a similar solution.
Using the iPhone's built-in video camera, Word Lens translates printed words in real-time.
Users simply pull up the application and look at the words to be translated through the iPhone. Instantaneously, the words appear on the screen in the language the user understands.
The application itself is free, but the in-app dictionaries cost $4.99 each. At the moment, the app offers only Spanish to English and English to Spanish. (It's compatible with the iPhone 3Gs, the iPhone 4 and the iPod Touch with video camera.)
The app's founders, Otavio Good and John DeWeese, took two and a half years to build the app, which relies on Optircal Character Recognition technology, TechCrunch reported.