Have you ever gotten lost in translation in a foreign country? I know I have. Quick story: while on a cab to the bus terminal in Hanoi, Vietnam on a really really tight schedule to catch the last bus, the driver suddenly decided to stop at the petrol kiosk and pump petrol. I was about 10mins away from the bus station and I could not afford to miss this bus. My hand gestures and repeated words of ‘no time, no time’ didn’t work, instead, he laughed at me and took his time pumping petrol. I was getting flustered with no data to translate what I wanted to convey, I could only pray for the best. Thank God, I made it with seconds to spare but it truly made me aware of language barriers and how it can all go awry in certain situations.
But thanks to the gods of technology and smartphones, we can now translate on the fly and all with a simple app. While this cannot beat learning the native language, this can help you get through the minor speed bumps along your travels.
Of course, we had to include Google Translate, you have no idea how many times it’s saved my life, or more like saved me from embarrassment. This is probably the most popular one out there and for a good reason. It is super user-friendly and confusion-free, even my granny can use this with ease. Their typed translation feature supports over 100 different languages, half of which are still translatable even with no internet (which is perfect for those who love venturing into the jungles and mountains). Their coolest feature has got to be its ever-expanding Word Lens. Point your phone’s camera at a nearby sign, menu or any written content and Word Lens transforms the original image with an AR text overlay in the user’s preferred language. So cool. Much wow.
And it’s all free.
Magically speak in another language. With iTranslate Voice what you say gets translated into another language, all voice to voice. It supports 42 languages, and all you have to do is speak into your phone and let the app translate it into the language you want – with surprising accuracy. While it is not as comprehensive as Google Translate, this reviewer compared the two apps during a volunteer stint at a refugee camp and in his experience, iTranslate had better voice input and output.
There are in-app purchases available, but since individual needs vary, not everyone will need them.
You know what are some of the most difficult languages to learn? Chinese, Korean and Japanese, because of the number of foreign characters you have to memorise. Developed by South Korea’s Naver Corporation, the app favours quality over quantity and focuses exclusively on the “big 3” Asian languages, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and English. Helpful features for travelers include conversation mode, offline mode, and automatic currency conversion.
If you want to delve more into local culture and customs on top of just scratching-the-surface language help, then TripLingo will be your best friend on your travels. And with its stellar reviews, it seems like many people are onboard with this idea. Going beyond the basic translation, it even has slang translations, free international calls with wifi, culture guide, tip calculator, phrasebook, learning tools and a whole host of other cool features that most translation apps do not have. It’s definitely gonna be useful for your round-the-world trip!
There’s a free version that offers basic access to the 23 included languages. For a monthly fee, all content is accessible.
Another translation app focusing on Korean, Japanese and Chinese. These developers are really hearing our cries. Waygo focuses on image recognition and it’s simple really, just point and translate, no internet required.