Today is a momentous day. The long promised reality of realtime translation has come one step closer with the launch of Word Lens by QuestVisual. This amazing iPhone app translates from English to Spanish and Spanish to English right before your eyes! Simply start the iPhone app and point the camera at the Spanish sign, menu, etc and the words are not only translated but placed on the exact same sign, menu etc. It truly is astonishing and will be amazing when you’re on holiday in Spanish-speaking countries.

Founder of QuestVisual Otavio Good explains the app’s process simply, “It tries to find out what the letters are and then looks in the dictionary. Then it draws the words back on the screen in translation.” Take a look at the promotional video – you’ll be amazed.

The end of translation as we know it?

The big question is, does this spell the end of translation as we know it? The simple answer is no. While Word Lens is amazing and a massive leap for machine translation, it still relies on computers to provide the translation. While computers are great they’re very literal, so they can’t get the nuance of languages which is vital for fluent communication. In tests machine translation is around 49% accurate on simple text, which is amazing when you think about it but still leaves 51% inaccurate!

So traditional human translation isn’t dead just yet. Only humans can read a text and truly use the correct language, maintain context, or even re-write while keeping the feel of the original. Until computers pass the Turing test and are capable of thought, professional translators’ jobs are safe.

It is amazing though, take a look!


I downloaded the app and tried it with mixed results. It seems to work best on laser printed text but struggles on anything with different coloured backgrounds or that has a shine on it such as a tin or glossy print.

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