The best way to get along in a foreign country is to know the local lingo. But if you don't, your smartphone can help you cheat your way through. The instant picture translation feature rolled into Google Translate last month is only a tap away, though you shouldn't take everything it says at face value.
The nifty translation upgrade comes courtesy of the Word Lens app, which Google acquired last year, and it saves you having to type out text on your smartphone keyboard, from menus to large red warning signs, it can come in handy when you're on your travels.
Obviously the app uses a data connection to feed back what it's seeing and get a translation, so use with caution if you're in a country where you're paying a lot for your data. And make sure you have the latest version of the app for iOS or Android before you head to the airport.
Once you're in the app, set your source language from the drop-down list on the left. You can't use the auto-detection feature for pictures, so if you've woken up bewildered in a strange place then you're going to need to find out what country you're in first. Tap the camera icon and point at the text you want to translate.
The app can be a little fiddly to use, so make sure you keep the camera steady and the text aligned using the guidelines on screen. All being well, it should magically transform before your eyes into a language you can understand, though when we've tried it some of the translations have been hit and miss.
Tap Import to load an image from your smartphone's gallery, Pause to get the app to stop where it is for a few seconds, and Scan to take a closer look. the Scan mode sends the whole image back to Google for analysis and lets you point out exactly where the blocks of text are. If you're having trouble working out exactly what you're seeing, then the Scan mode is a useful extra step.
This article originally appeared on Field Guide, Gizmodo's blog on how to get the best out of your tech