It creates the translation through Google Translate so at the very least you’d want to be sure whoever you’re talking with understands that some translations might be downright wacky. Needless to say if it requires clarity and exact directions (talking through heart surgery, supporting nuclear power center operators or peace negotiations for example) this is not an appropriate tool.
The implementation is a little clunky – you need to add a bot to the chat for each language pair, in each direction. For example talking to someone in French you’d need both the English-to-French bot and the French-to-English bot. I’m guessing this is the result of someone’s 20% time at Google. (Edit: They’ve since confirmed it is)
I’d hope if they had actually roadmapped this feature the translation option could have just been built in to the tool. The system should really just know if the people who are talking to each other are using different language interfaces or preferences. If it detects that two people with different preferences start chatting just throw up a “We see you’re talking with someone who may speak a different language, would you like us to translate for you?” kind of message.
Right now it supports 29 language pairs, which is kind of odd as it leaves the conversation a little bit one sided… From my quick look it seems English-to-Bulgarian is the pair left out in the cold (but Bulgarian-to-English is supported.) (See edit below: real number is 24)
All in all, for the time being it’s a fun toy but it’ll be interesting to see how this functionality evolves…
Google Blog post
Edited to Add: If anyone out there can read the Chinese text in the screen cap I’d love to know how legible it actually is. The English is passable, which is probably why they used it, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out there’s some crazy stuff happening on the other end.
EDIT: They published the wrong list of language pairs on the Google blog initially… there’s actually 24: ar2en, de2en, de2fr, el2en, en2ar, en2de, en2el, en2es, en2fr, en2it, en2ja, en2ko, en2nl, en2ru, en2zh, es2en, fr2de, fr2en, it2en, ja2en, ko2en, nl2en, ru2en, zh2en