Translate text between languages in Gmail, Google Docs and Google Sheets—and, in some editions of Workspace, translate captions in Google Meet
Image: Andy Wolber/Tech Republic
Google Translate on the web has long been a helpful tool to translate text, documents and websites from a language you don’t know to one you can comprehend. On mobile devices, the Google Translate app for iPhone and Android not only lets you point your camera at text to translate signs and documents, but also uses the device microphone to listen and translate speech in real-time.
Fewer people may be aware that translation capabilities are woven into Google Workspace apps as well. Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Meet all make it possible to translate text among various languages.
SEE: Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365: A side-by-side analysis w/checklist (TechRepublic Premium)
Before you explore the options below, I recommend you review your Google Account language settings on the web, where you may choose your preferred language and add other languages you understand. For example, if you are fluent in both English and Spanish, you might set English as your preferred language and add Español as another language. Additionally, you may adjust language and region settings in Google Calendar on the web, as well as for Google Search.
Note that the following steps assume you are accessing each app within the Chrome desktop web browser.
How to translate a received email in Gmail
When you receive an email written in a language you don’t know in Gmail on the web, select the three-dot menu — to the right of both the star and reply icons — then select Translate message, as shown in Figure A. This adds translation options above the email.
In Gmail, use the Translate message option to translate an email into a language you understand.
You may adjust the selected language for either the source or translated text, as shown in Figure B.
You may adjust the source and translated language options.
The Detect language option attempts to identify the language from the text. By default, when an email is written in your preferred language or another language you have added to your Google account, the system will leave the text as is and not translate it. You always may manually choose to translate the email to any of the destination languages on the list.
How to translate Google Docs
You may translate an open Google Doc in your web browser to another language in four steps:
- Select Tools | Translate document as shown in Figure C,
- Optionally edit the translated document title,
- Choose the desired language for the translated document from the drop-down list, then select the Translate button.
You may quickly translate a Google Doc into another language.
The system will translate your file into the chosen language and open it in your browser.
How to translate in Google Sheets
Google Sheets includes a =GOOGLETRANSLATE formula to translate text from one language to another. The formula works as follows: =GOOGLETRANSLATE(text,”source_language”,”target language”). Specify the source and target languages using a two-letter language code, such as “en” for English, “es” for Spanish or “zh” for Chinese. Alternatively, you may choose “auto” for the source_language to allow the system to auto-detect the language from the text.
The source text may either be entered in quotes in the formula or may reference a cell. For example, as shown in Figure D, cell A4, to translate a word or phrase from English to Spanish directly, you might enter:
=GOOGLETRANSLATE(“These words will be translated into Spanish.”,”en”,”es”)
This results in the following text displayed in the cell: “Estas palabras serán traducidas al español.”
Alternatively, if you enter the above text as shown in Figure D, cell A6, you could enter the following formula in cell A7 to translate the contents of cell A6 into English, as shown in Figure D, cell A7:
Use the =GOOGLETRANSLATE formula to convert text from one language to another in a Google Sheet.
How to enable translated captions in Google Meet
People who use any of the following Google Workspace editions may use translated captions within Google Meet: Business Standard or Plus; Enterprise Starter, Standard or Plus; Teaching & Learning Upgrade or Education Plus.
To enable translated caption, select the three-dot menu while in an active Google Meet session, then select Settings, as shown in Figure E, left. Choose Captions, then adjust the Translated captions slider on, as shown in Figure E, right, and select a language.
In some editions of Google Meet, you may access Settings (left) and enable the display of translated captions (right).
As of October 2022, translated live captions are offered for English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish. Once active, the translated captions will be displayed on screen as meeting participants speak.
What’s your experience with translation?
For enterprise use, Google offers Translation AI, which allows developers to leverage automated machine translation between languages. At Google Cloud Next ‘22, the company announced a new Translation Hub service, which not only lets you use an AI-powered system to translate text into 135 languages, but also lets you add a “human in the loop” to manually review and edit the system-generated translations.
What has your experience been with languages and translation in the various Google apps and services? Has machine translation been sufficient for your purposes when you need to read an email or document written in a language you don’t read proficiently? Have live translated captions in Google Meet made it possible for you to effectively communicate with people whose primary language is not your own? Mention or message me on Twitter (@awolber) to let me know what your experience with Google’s translation tools has been.