How to Use Apple’s Built-In Translator App


If you need to translate speech or text on the go, several mobile apps can get the job done. But for those with an iPhone or iPad, Apple offers a built-in Translator app.

Unveiled with iOS 14, the app supports 12 different languages, including English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Arabic. Several are available to download for offline access.

With iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, an Auto Translate option lets you translate a back-and-forth conversation without tapping the microphone button. There are also two modes based on how you hold your device, plus the ability to translate selected text from any app on your device.

Here’s how to translate text and speech on your Apple device.

Update to iOS 15

For the newest features, update your device to iOS 15 or iPadOS 15 or higher if you haven’t already done so. Go to Settings > General > Software Update. Your device will indicate that your software is up to date or prompt you to download and install the latest update. You can then open the Translate app, or download it from the App Store if you previously removed it.

Translate Text and Speech

Your first step within the app will likely be to choose the source and target languages. Tap the down arrow for the first language if it’s not already set correctly and change it to the language you want. Do the same for the second language.

To enter the text you want translated via the keyboard, tap anywhere in the space below and type the text. Tap Go to confirm, and the translation appears below your text. Tap the Play button to hear the translation spoken aloud.

If you’d rather speak your phrase, tap the microphone icon. Wait for the Listening message to appear on the screen, then speak. Your words will then appear on the screen as you speak them; make sure they match what you say. The translation will then appear on the screen. Tap the Play icon to hear the translation spoken aloud.

Save to Favorites and Define Words

If you plan to use a phrase in the future, tap the star-shaped Favorite icon next to the translated text to save it to your Favorites list.

Tap the book icon, and you can look up each translated word in a dictionary for a definition. Once you tap the icon, the first word in the translation is highlighted and defined. You can then tap another word in the translation to see its dictionary definition.

Tap the Favorites icon in the bottom or side navigation to view any phrases you have added to your Favorites list, as well as all recently translated phrases. If you wish to remove a favorite from the list, swipe it to the left and tap the Unfavorite icon.

To remove a recent phrase, swipe it to the left and tap the Delete icon. You can also favorite recent phrases by tapping the Favorite icon.

Access a Specific Language Keyboard

If you select a language such as English, the standard alphanumeric keyboard for English appears. But if you choose a different language, you’ll notice that the keyboard changes to include the characters and symbols for that language.

For instance, the Spanish keyboard will add an ñ, the Japanese keyboard will display Japanese kanji, and the Arabic keyboard will show Arabic script. Predictive text also changes based on the language. Start typing a word in the language you chose, and the suggestions display words in that language.

By default, the source language is the one on the left and the target language is the one on the right, but you can easily switch back and forth. Just tap the language that you want to type or speak. A blue circle appears in front of it, indicating that it’s the active language.

(Auto) Translate a Conversation

In order to translate a conversation between two people, tap Conversation. The app has added new features to make conversations run smoother. For instance, instead of needing to manually set the two languages being translated, you can now open the ellipsis menu and choose Detect Language so your device will automatically detect what’s being spoken.

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Instead of tapping the microphone button each time someone wants to speak, select Auto Translate so the app will detect when one person starts and stops speaking. By default, translations appear on the screen but are not spoken. The Play Translations option will make sure each side of the conversation is automatically read aloud.

Side by Side and Face to Face Modes

Conversations now have two modes you can choose, depending on how you wish to hold your device. Tap the rectangle-shaped icon to switch between Side by Side mode and Face to Face mode, then position your device accordingly.

In Side by Side mode, you hold the device horizontally so that the person next to you can view their side of the conversation. Face to Face mode is for people talking face-to-face, so you place the phone vertically between you and the other person, so you both see your side of the conversation.

Now all you need to do is tap the microphone icon to start speaking. If you have all the new options turned on, you won’t need to do any work; just speak and the app will translate each side of the conversation.

Download Languages

The app needs an internet connection to translate, but you can download specific languages for offline translation. Tap the down arrow next to either of the two displayed languages, then select Manage Languages at the bottom of the list. To download a language, tap the Download button next to it.

Translate Selected Text

You can also translate text from a website, document, or app outside of the Translate app. Just select the text you need translated and tap the Translate command from the menu. The translated text appears in a small window.

You can then hear the translation read aloud, copy and paste the translated text, or tap the Change Language command to select a new target language.

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