Quickly Translate Text on the fly Using a Shortcut

Last modified
Monday, February 1, 2021

Applies to: iPhone and iPad IOS 13+,

If you find that you come across (or yourself write) short chunks of text that you need to translate on the fly, like Facebook comments or an email, here is one solution.

You can copy the text to the clipboard, and then you can use a shortcut to translate the contents of the clipboard using Microsoft’s translation engine. You can activate the shortcut in several different ways. We’ll take each of these steps in turn:

Copying text to the clipboard

There are three main ways you will achieve this:

  1. With VoiceOver enabled, using the three-finger quadruple tap which copies the last spoken content to the clipboard;
  2. With VoiceOver enabled, by using the text selection and edit>copy (or cut) options in the rotor, where they are available;
  3. By using a setting within a particular app where available, such as copying a Facebook comment or message with their dedicated “copy” buttons

Translating the text

Install this Paste and Translate shortcut on your iPhone or iPad. NB: If you prefer not to trust external shortcuts, are familiar with creating shortcuts and want to make your own, see the bottom of this post for the actions I used.

Here are the steps for installing the shortcut:

  1. Select the download link on your iPhone or iPad that you want to install the shortcut on. Then select “Get shortcut”.
  2. Flick right repeatedly (or scroll down) till you find the “Add untrusted shortcut” button and double tap on it. (Apple labels all external shortcuts as “untrusted” because it can’t verify their authenticity).
  3. Choose which language text should be translated into. Select the “Choose” button to pick a language, then select the “Done” button.

Activating the shortcut

Now it’s time to decide how you want to access the shortcut. Here are your options. You can use any or all of the following:

Ask Siri

Siri will respond to the name of the shortcut. By default, it’s called “Paste and translate”, but you can rename it from the shortcuts app if you like by selecting the shortcut > Details.

Assign a VoiceOver gesture to it

This is very efficient if you’re a VoiceOver user. To do this, go into settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Commands > All commands > Shortcuts. Double tap on “Paste and translate” and select your preferred gesture (it will save automatically once done). VoiceOver will warn you if you are about to assign it to a gesture already in use so you can decide if you really want to use that one.

Access it from the share sheet

The shortcut will appear in the share sheet by default (if you don’t want it to, that option is under ‘details” when you select the shortcut from within the Shortcuts app). To activate it in the share sheet, look for “Paste and translate” in the list of actions.

Add the shortcut to your home screen

To do this, select the shortcut from within the shortcuts app. Then select “details” and the “Add to home screen” button is under there. By default, it’ll appear last on the first available page of apps so not necessarily on page 1. It you want to move it, you can edit its placement just as you would with apps or other home-screen icons.

Problems/questions/other useful translate shortcuts?

Post in the comments below.

Creating your own shortcut

Assuming you have basic familiarity with creating shortcuts, you can, of course, create a translate shortcut in any number of ways. Here are the actions I used. I list the action followed by the syntax configured once selected.

Get clipboard > Get clipboard
Translate text with Microsoft > translate [clipboard] from [detected language] to [# choose your preferred language)
Show result > show [translated text]

Then set the options under “Details” as desired (re share sheet, home screen icon etc.)


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Submitted by Maldalain on Monday, February 1, 2021

Thanks for the ver useful shortcut. Is there a way to add more than one target language? So for example, if the text I need to translate is in Spanish and I need to translate it to Italian and and I then wanted to get English translation, is there any way I can accomplish this?


I'm also a bit of a novice on the Shortcuts app but, Ive tried to make two options, one where it'll ask each time what Language you want to translate to, so you would just run that shortcut twice, and in the other option it’s a single shortcut and you preset the two languages you want to translate to.

Give them a go and see what you think, appreciae if you can post your feedback here especially if there's any problems. :)

Shortcut that asks for the target Language each time (I called it "Paste and translaTe choose): https://www.icloud.com/shortcuts/865f28fe106548eaa7a766ed62355984

Shortcut with option to translate twice (called "Paste and translate twice"): https://www.icloud.com/shortcuts/1281b4a5111540ba8449477e8075a3d6

Uh-Huh! I think I figured out how to do this. I duplicated the shortcut then edited the language output and renamed the shortcut to reflect the target language I am translating to. So now I have the CMD+Shift+1 to translate any source language text to English and CMD+Shift+2 to translate the copied text to Spanish.

Submitted by Hattori Shanzo on Tuesday, February 2, 2021

It won't allow me to run untrusted shortcuts no matter what I've tried. The "allow untrusted..." is dimmed so it can't be toggled. What a pain lol.

Submitted by Dawn 👩🏻‍🦯 on Saturday, February 6, 2021

If you want to run on trusted shortcuts and install and trusted shortcuts, you have to run a shortcut that’s already on the device first. So for example, if you have a Shortcuts that ask Siri to get the news. You would double tap and run that. Then after that you would close your Shortcuts app and then you can go back to the shortcut link and click on it to install it. You can even do this for short cuts that have been made from apps. So for example if you have a subscription to Weather Gods, and you can get the Siri shortcut for that. Run one of those shortcuts. Then you can install and run on trusted shortcuts. I had the same problem that you did. Especially when I installed a shortcut for getting the pollen counts. And I was stymied myself. But I figured out that that was the only way to fix that problem. I hope this helps you! :-)

Thank you for the tips! Especially the one about how you can add a shortcut to your home screen! I did not know that you could do that! Now that I know that I can do that, I will be adding the browse photo shortcut to my home screen from Seeing AI! Well I already have a voiceover gesture assigned to that shortcut, I’ll try anything! LOL :-) also, I might do that with some other shortcuts that I either create or install. I think I’m definitely going to try out the translation shortcut though! Because I have come across a couple of things, on Facebook, where translation was a tiny bit of an issue. It’s not often, but it does happen from time to time. I’m a member of several meme groups and things like that on Facebook. So stuff is bound to happen.

Submitted by Dawn 👩🏻‍🦯 on Sunday, February 7, 2021

Hello! I’m going in to try to find the more detail screen for shortcuts, and I can’t seem to find it. Am I just not looking in the right place? I go to my shortcuts and then I go to the Shortcuts or your apps. Because that’s really the only thing that I have that actually says something about my Shortcuts. Thank you all in the Fants! :-)

Submitted by Aine on Sunday, February 7, 2021

In reply to by Dawn 👩🏻‍🦯

Hi, I've sometimes found the details option to not appear or be difficult to focus on as well.

But in principle, if you go into the shortcuts app under my shortcuts, then double tap on the shorcut in question, the details button should be right one swipe right of the heading at the top, which displays the name of the shortcut.

Submitted by Hattori Shanzo on Monday, February 8, 2021

In reply to by Dawn 👩🏻‍🦯

That worked! I thought I have run a shortcut before which baffled me why the darn thing was giving me issues to turn the flipin' switch to on! I ran a asanine shortcut and presto! Apparently I'm stupid lol! Thanks for the suggestion/help!

Submitted by Dawn 👩🏻‍🦯 on Sunday, February 14, 2021

In reply to by Hattori Shanzo

You’re welcome! :-) I’m glad it helped! I thought the same thing! Personally, I don’t like that it’s set up that way, because I think it’s confusing. Trust me, you are not stupid. It’s just confusing the way that that is set up. At least to me. I never would’ve thought to run a shortcut myself. I just tried it just to see if it would make a difference. Just as basic troubleshooting. And it fix the problem.