You can only speak and write English so how do you converse with a person in China who writes Mandarin but doesn’t understand a word of English? Google Translate is no doubt a good option but it is going to be tedious for you (and your Chinese friend) to translate each and every sentence manually before sending them through any messenger.

How do you break down the language barrier and chat with someone in another country when there’s no ‘common’ language between the two parties? Microsoft is building a version of Skype for that will allow real-time translation for voice and video calls. You can watch the video demo though the actual software is expected to become available for Windows 8 later this year.

There’s another option now for people looking to have multi-lingual text chats – Google Sheets. Since two people can work on a Google Sheet simultaneously, it can actually work as a simple chat client. And if you integrate the same sheet with Google Translate – which is easy – the text typed inside Google Sheets can be translated in real-time and automatically (Demo GIF).

Google Chat - Multi Languages

Multi-lingual Chat with Live Translation

Here’s the idea. You have two participants speaking different languages that have opened a Google Sheet at the same time. There are 2 columns in the sheet for each participant. Now Participant A can write text in his own language in column A and the translated version in Participant B’s language will appear instantly in the second column. And vice-versa.

To get started, open this Google Sheet and choose File -> Make a copy to make your own copy of the sheet in your Google Drive. Now hit the share button in your sheet and share it another person with “edit” permissions (since he or she would write the text inside your sheet).

That’s pretty much it. All you have to do now is put your name and your friend’s name in cells C4 and G4 respectively. Also select your native languages from the drop-down in cell C5 and C6. Now type anything in the yellow cell and it will appear in the second column in the participant B’s language. Similarly they can write in the green cell and the translated text would show up in your column.

Multi-lingual Chat in Google Sheets

Internally, the sheet is powered by Google Scripts. And it supports all language pairs that are supported by Google Translate from Hindi to French to German to Tamil. Give it a try!

Update: Some suggested that Google Talk supports translation bots and thus can solve a similar problem. Possible but Google Talk has migrated to Google Hangouts and a Google community manager confirmed in a thread that Hangouts do currently [2013] support chat bots.