How many of us promise to learn a new language before heading on a trip, but then never really end up learning anything beyond “hello” and “thank you?” Fortunately, there are translation apps that can do a lot of the communicating for you. Using these apps, you can travel virtually anywhere without fear of misreading street signs or not being able to ask others for directions. Most importantly, you’ll always be able to order your coffee the way you want it—and that, my friends, is the true salvation of such technology. Below are some of our favorites.
Few apps match up to Google Translate’s support of 90 languages. Like all translation apps, it’s not always perfect, but it is one of the best and offers translation of typing, speaking, and writing. One of the niftier features is the ability to read foreign-language signs in real time simply by pointing your camera at the text. Six more widespread languages are supported in this feature (French, German, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and Italian), and more are being planned.
2. Languages ($2.99 on iOS)
This simple app by Sonico GmbH is practical for travel—a collection of 12 different language dictionaries that can be accessed at any time offline. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles of some of the other apps, but it’s extremely useful, especially if traveling in Europe. It supports Spanish, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese and Swedish.
iTranslate is one of the biggest and most popular translation apps with support for more than 90 languages. It features useful text-to-speech functionality with the option to switch between dialects and gender. One of the most helpful features is the Romanization of languages like Chinese and Japanese, which converts characters into Romanized text.
4. iTranslate Voice 2 ($4.99 on iOS)
From the same people who brought us iTranslate, iTranslate Voice lets you speak into your phone and then quickly translates your words into more than 40 languages. It’s incredibly easy to use and has garnered well-deserved accolades and reviews. You can even connect to another phone via Bluetooth so you can hold a conversation with a foreign friend.
5. SMS Translator V3 (free on Android)
One of the best parts of traveling is making friends, and SMS Translator facilitates that by making it easy to text in a foreign language. With this app, you can automatically have incoming texts in 16 different languages translated to your own language.
Just point your phone’s camera at a word, and Worldictionary will translate it without even needing to take a photo. Fifteen languages are supported at the moment, and you can also manually type in the word to see what it means.
7. Pixter Scanner OCR ($2.99 on iOS)
Take a photo of some foreign text with Pixter Scanner OCR, and it will be translated into something you can understand. As the developers say, this app isn’t just for translating and can be used to turn your phone into a digital scanner of sorts by extracting the text from a document you’ve taken a photo of.
Dolphin is a well-regarded browser that offers a language plugin that easily translates an entire page—or simply one sentence—into up to 58 languages. It’s very useful for translating informative websites, such as public transportation or event calendars, when on the move. Keep in mind that some countries have strict Internet restrictions, so you may need to use a VPN (virtual private network) to access certain things while browsing.
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Photo by Scott Thomsen