Coming across text in a foreign language in your desktop browser no longer requires hiring an interpreter or pulling out a translation dictionary. Thanks to regular improvements in artificial intelligence and translation engines, you can now convert text into your own language with just a couple of clicks.
These solutions aren’t yet 100 percent accurate, especially when it comes to slang, turns of phrase, or more obscure and technical terms. But they should give you a very good idea of what’s being said and what the gist of an article is. If you find that your browser of choice doesn’t have the necessary tools built in, there are third-party apps and extensions you can turn to.
How to translate text from your browser
Google Chrome now comes with Google Translate built-in. You can see your browser’s default language in Chrome’s settings (click the three dots to the top right then Languages, if you want to change it). But when you load up a website that’s not in this language, you should see a box pop-up on the address bar asking if you want to run a translation. Just click on your default language to do this.
You can also click the three dots to the right to have specific conversions (e.g. Spanish to English) run automatically or to exempt a site from automatic translation. The same menu enables you to flag up an incorrectly identified language. If the pop-up doesn’t appear, you can right-click anywhere on the actual webpage to find the translation option, and it’s also possible to translate specific blocks of text by highlighting and right-clicking on them.
Should Microsoft Edge be your browser of choice, this program also has its own integrated translation tool. As with Chrome, it should kick in automatically when you visit a website that isn’t in your browser’s default language, which you can set by choosing Languages from the main settings pane (click the three dots in the top right corner to see it).
When you visit a foreign website in Edge, an address bar will pop up—just click Translate to run the suggested translation. Use the drop-down menu to pick a different language to translate into, or click More to always or never translate websites in this language. You can also exclude specific sites from conversion. As in Chrome, you can also right-click on pages to translate them, as well as selecting text and right-clicking on the selection to translate specific sections.
Then there’s Apple’s Safari, which matches Chrome and Edge by having its very own built-in translation engine, which should offer its services instantly as soon as you visit a webpage that’s not in the language set for macOS. You can check and change what this is by opening the Apple menu, then choosing System Settings, General, and Language & Region.
If a translation is available in Safari, you’ll see a translate button (two speech bubbles) up in the address bar at the top of the interface. Click on the icon, choose the Translate to English option, and confirm the action. The same menu lets you edit your preferred languages, and go back to the original if you want. Just like on Edge and Chrome, you can also translate specific blocks of text by highlighting and right-clicking on them.
It’s worth noting that Safari will politely ask if it can send the web text to the cloud for processing, which is something that Google’s and Microsoft’s tools also do, but don’t ask you about. This is crucial for the tool to work, so if you’re not comfortable with that, the translation won’t happen.
Using third-party extensions to translate text
There are also third-party browser extensions that you can turn to for translating web pages. You’ll need to do this if you’re using Mozilla Firefox, for example, as it doesn’t have a built-in translation feature, though it does have a Firefox Translations add-on that appears to be an official Firefox-developed product. Install the extension, and its icon will appear at the top of web pages written in a foreign language.
Change the languages that the extension has detected if needed, then click the Translate button to run the translation. Via the Options button on the right of the extension’s toolbar, you can also turn off translation prompts and disable translations for a particular website. Click Options and then Translation preferences to set your default language in Firefox, and edit the lists of languages and webpages the add-on should ignore.
There isn’t an official Google Translate extension for Firefox, but there are plenty of compatible extensions that make use of Google Translate’s engine. One example is To Google Translate, which doesn’t translate entire webpages, but it sends text you’ve selected and right-clicked on to Google Translate for processing. It can be a nice complement to Firefox Translations.
You’ll find multiple translation extensions for browsers running on the Chromium code (including Chrome, Edge, and Opera). One of the more interesting ones is DeepL Translate, which pops up as soon as you select text on a page to offer a translation. This add-on can also read foreign text aloud and translate what you write in your browser into a new language.
Another option is Translator uLanguage, which brings a whole host of translation features right into your browser. You can convert entire pages or text selections into different languages, have translations read out to you, look up words in a dictionary, and save specific words and phrases to your own vocabulary list for future reference. It’s ideal if you’re learning a language.
We also like Mate Translate, which is also a comprehensive suite of various language tools. You can look up words and phrases and save them for later reference, convert entire pages or selected blocks of text, and hear translations read out loud. The add-on is also able to translate Netflix subtitles, though this doesn’t happen automatically—you’ll need to highlight the subtitles to translate.