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Translate letters through Google Docs

Google-docs-logoHERE is a handy feature using Google Docs that will let you scan a letter in to your computer and translate it from French to English.

A recent feature added to Google Docs is Optical Character Recognition (OCR) which converts the text on a scanned image into editable text on the screen.

So for example, say you receive a letter covering a health issue and you are not completely sure what it is saying then scan it and save it to your computer as either a PDF, JPEG, GIF or PNG file.

Next log in to Google Docs and you will see the option to Upload in the top left hand corner of your index page of past documents.

Click this and in the pop-up window select the file to upload and then tick the check box that says 'Convert text from PDF or image files to Google Docs documents.'

Click Start Upload and give it a few seconds to go through the procedure of adding the letter to your list of documents.

Once complete you will see a plain text version of your letter, in French, so to get an English language version go along to Tools on the tool bar and then Translate and pick English (US), there is no UK option (see image below).


Within a few seconds the page will be translated and you should be able to get a good idea of the content of your letter, remember it is a computer translation so it is not going to be word perfect.

I had a quick go with a PDF file and it worked fine, it might prove a little more problematic with a hand written note, but for printed letters or similar the OCR should be able to easily recognise the text.

If you have any questions feel free to leave a message below and I'll try to help out.

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Alison Morton

Hi Craig,
Thank goodness you said "...remember it is a computer translation so it is not going to be word perfect."

Google isn't too bad, but all machine translation systems miss something and often get things out of context or in the wrong tense. This can be very important if the letter is about your tax affairs and the computer doesn't differentiate (or worse gets it wrong) between what a government department is going to do or has already done.

Best blooper I know on a double test is 'Out of sight, out of mind' became 'Blind drunk'.

Alison Morton MA DipTrans MCIL
Membre de la Société française des Traducteurs

Craig McGinty

Hi Alison, as you say it is important to remember that the translation is an 'estimate' and I must admit if I had a financial or legal question I wouldn't turn to Google's algorithms!
All the best, Craig


We just tried to translate a french doc. from a pdf file and everything is great up to the point at which I use the tools option on the toolbar. I can't see 'Translate' amongst our tools. I have the 'translate a page' option elsewhere but not on the toolbar for the particular doc. What have I done wrong?
Really useful idea & thanks for the info.

Craig McGinty

Hi Sue,
I've added an image of the part where you pick the language to translate into, I hope this helps.
All the best, Craig


No matter how many times I follow your instructions the page I have scanned and uploaded shows as a blank page please help what is going wrong many thanks

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