The world translation market is estimated at $8-80 billion

Put differently, over 3.2 billion people in the world don’t know English, only 25 per cent internet users do. Just 35 per cent of Google’s revenues emanate from outside the US or the UK.

It seemed logical therefore that three months back these columns noted that a Google strategist has predicted a market in solving the world’s translation problem….a world where we could read every website automatically translated, and even speak on the phone with automatic translation (

True to promise, late last week, the company demonstrated “conversation mode,” a voice translation service on its Android smartphone. The experience was far from fluid and (so far) limited between English and Spanish. But trusting Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s conviction, by the next time he’s in India, Steven H Hirth, my guest from NYC, might simply press the mobile button for English, and Google will translate his question into Hindi with my able driver Sonu -on the other side- then responding in Hindi and Steven hearing the answer in English.

In India on his first visit, someone introduced Steven to the word “jugaad,” that horrid formulation on Indian ingenuity. I suspect Sonu’s next “jugaad” will be to use “conversation mode” like a Babel fish that sits on his ear and instantly translates even face-to-face communication into Hindi. Google isn’t quite there, but that’s a reasonable assumption of where the goal lies. Result? Sonu’s bills may balloon, but so will his value; Sunil Mittal, Ratan Tata or Kumaramangalam Birla will make a lot more money over voice; and our linguistic edge over the Chinese -as and when Google bridges them and the world’s 3-4 main business languages- will get blunted.

Google’s English-Spanish service, offered free, seemed impossible just a few months ago. Even now, the translation takes them a fraction of a second, but sending it over the phone takes longer. The feature hasn’t been released to the public in ‘’beta’’ form, to allow the ironing out. It is still in ‘’alpha’’. “Factors like regional accents, background noise or rapid speech may make it difficult to understand what you’re saying,” Google has confessed.