Visiting foreign countries can be tricky when you don’t speak the language. Navigating your way through the trains, asking for directions and ordering meals using hand gestures can get you lost or with a questionable plate of food. If you’re not fluent in the local language, there are a few tools you can pack to help you communicate with your fellow travelers.
Berlitz and Lonely Planet have some of the best language phrasebooks on the market. Lonely Planet’s books coordinate with their destinations, like the Europe phrasebook, which includes Basque, Bulgarian, Croatian, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Catalan, Welsh, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Italian, Dutch, French and German. They also have more obscure languages than are available in your average bookstore. The Rick Steves line of European phrasebooks is also good.
>> Buy phrasebooks on Amazon
Handheld electronic translators were once the go-to device for learning languages while traveling. They are about the size of a calculator and run from $50-200. While electronic translators are more expensive than other language options, they offer multiple languages so you can re-use them on your travels. Franklin has long been the leader of electronic translators and their products come highly recommended.
>> Buy translators on Amazon
For travelers who are carrying their smartphones, iPhone apps can do the same translations that other tools can do without carrying around as many items.
- Word Lens: This app uses the camera on your phone to translate the words on signs. It currently works in Spanish, French and Italian. Available for both Android and iPhone. $4.99.
- Google Translate: You can type or record words in most languages, including Arabic, Italian, German and Chinese, and translates in either direction. Available for Android and iPhone. Free.
- Jibbigo: Jibbigo’s appeal is that the app works even when you’re not connected to the Internet. You can type or speak the language and there is no limit to how many translations you can do. It is currently available in Thai, Chinese, French, German, German to Spanish (coming soon), Iraqi (iPhone only), Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Tagalog. Available for Android and iPhone. $4.99.
- Interpret: Another free app, Interpret translates in over 50 languages and you can share your translations on Facebook, Twitter and via email. You can also tag favorite to look up time and time again. Available for iPhone. Free.
- iSpeak: Each language gets a separate app with iSpeak, translating between English and Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish, Swedish, Arabic, Greek, Russian, Czech, Norwegian and Finnish. Available for iPhone. $1.99.
- Odyssey Translator Pro: Odyssey sets up its translations in ways you would look for them, like drinks, food, conversation and shopping. It also works without a wireless or data connection. Current versions include English to Spanish, English to German, English to French, English to Italian, English to Brazilian Portuguese, English to Mandarin Chinese, Spanish to English and Brazilian Portuguese to English. Available for iPhone. $4.99.
- World Nomads: This travel insurance company also has a series of free iPhone or iPod language apps that give you spoken lessons from a native speaker with helpful words, as well as tips on visiting your destination. Available languages include Swahili, Croatian, Korean, Khmer, Aussie slang, Nepali, Dutch, Greek, German, Swedish, Turkish, Russian, Portuguese, Malay, Arabic, Lao, Hindi, Thai, Indonesian, Mandarin, Italian, Japanese, Vietnamese, French and Spanish. Available for iPhone and iPod touch. Free.
There are hundreds of language podcasts to listen to on the train or plane ride to your destination. You can download them free on iTunes. The Pod101 series, in Japanese and Chinese, is very popular. Audiria is one of the top Spanish podcasts
Photo cards let people know what you’re looking for or to tell them about a special dietary concerns (allergies, gluten free, vegetarian). Kwikpoint‘s photo translation cards work in any country because all you have to do is point to the picture. The waterproof, lightweight cards have over 600 pictures. SelectWisely markets to travelers with allergies and other medical conditions.
Join the Her Packing List email community!
Subscribe to get our latest packing lists, gear deals, and travel news by email.