Visiting foreign countries can be tricky when you don’t speak the language. Navigating your way through a vast train system, asking for directions, and ordering meals using hand gestures can leave you lost or with a questionable plate of food.
Thankfully, in the age of smartphones and wi-fi, there are several ways that you can get helpful translations with a few taps on your mobile device.
Google Translate has come a long way since its debut in 2006. From only being able to translate words that you type in or paste in the text box, you are now able to do image translations.
Image Translation: For image translations, you tap the camera button in the app and then point your phone’s camera to the sign or text that you want to translate.
Seemingly like magic, the text will transform into the language you have chosen. It is incredibly accurate for single words or short sentences, but it may start looking funky once you get to more complex sentences.
Transcriber: Another nifty feature Google Translate has is a transcriber, where you can talk in your native language, and it will transcribe and translate your words almost simultaneously. For now, this feature is only available in English, French, German, Hindi, Portugues, Russian, Spanish, and Thai.
Still, it’s a great app to have on your phone when you travel. It can translate more than 100 languages and you can even download language packs so you will be able to translate words even when your phone is not connected to the wifi.
Just make sure that you download the language packs over wifi at the start of your travel to avoid incurring data charges when you download over mobile internet.
It’s important to note though that not all languages are available for download.
Other smartphone apps
Though limited only to 60+ languages, this app can translate multiple languages simultaneously in a single conversation This is perfect if you are in a group setting where everyone speaks a different language.
Going beyond just translating words, TripLingo aims to do it all for you. There are instant voice and text-based translations, as well as guides on the local customs, etiquette, and tipping.
The app can also translate receipts so you can easily keep track of expenses, which is crucial if you are traveling for business. Perhaps one of the best features of this app is that it can connect you with a human translator on the phone at $3.50 per minute.
The app is free, but there are premium features that require a monthly subscription. Available on iOS and Android.
Language Translation Devices
Depending on the model that you buy, electronic language translation devices offer two-way translation voice translations. Most devices can connect to wifi to be able to translate to and from more than 100 languages.
Some devices have the offline translation function but are often limited to certain languages like English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, German, Italian, Dutch, Portugues, Russian, Korean, and Chinese.
What’s great about having these devices is that it frees up your phone from use and can save on battery. (But you could also pack a backup battery pack.)
Price: $59 to $199
- Search for electronic language translation devices on Amazon.
Learn the language
One thing to make traveling to a country where you don’t speak the language less daunting is to learn the language.
Travel guides both online and in old-school guidebooks preach the importance of learning some key phrases when talking to the locals. Not only does it empower you to be confident while traveling, but it also endears you to the locals who are often delighted with foreigners taking an effort to learn their language.
Even if all they know how to say is, “Where is the toilet?“
If you want to go beyond the usual tourist phrases though, there are several language apps that you can download to learn a new language.
- It’s a great activity for when you’re waiting for your next big trip.
Undoubtedly one of the most popular language-learning apps with more than 200 million users, Duolingo offers lessons for learning 31 languages including Spanish, Latin, Navajo, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Italian, and even Klingon.
The lessons are presented as a game and keep track of your streak to encourage you to use the app and take a lesson every day. You also have the ability to set your daily goal to motivate you to take more than one lesson each day.
You need to be connected to the internet to take the lessons, though offline learning is also available for Duolingo Plus.
Price: Duolingo basic is free, but Duolingo Plus with no ads and offline learning costs $6.99 per month
If you find yourself to be more inclined to learn by interacting with people, Hello Talk might be better language learning app for you.
Hello Talk connects you with a native speaker of the language and they will teach you the language through voice recording, video calls, text, and more. This allows you to practice your pronunciation since you have someone who can listen to you and can correct you with your diction.
Not only that, but you are also in a position to learn a new culture and gain a new friend!
The app supports over 150+ languages and has over 20 million users, so you’re sure to find someone to chat with.
Price: Free, but VIP packages are available
Say what now?
Those are just some of the available language tools you can use when you are out exploring the world. No need to worry too much about language barriers, because as long as you have these and wifi connection or mobile data, you have the ability to communicate with the locals.
Did we miss your personal favorite language tools? Have you tried any of these? Share your thoughts in the comments below!