One of the best things about traveling abroad is exploring cultures different from your own. It can be exciting and eye-opening, but also overwhelming, particularly if you don’t speak the local language. Not only can the language barrier keep you from having conversations with new and interesting people; but it can also make it difficult to do simple things like figure out which train to take, or order what you want off of a menu. But it certainly shouldn’t keep you from visiting — especially when you have technology on your side. Ahead, five translation apps that can swiftly help fill those language knowledge gaps.
“I’ve found that TripLingo is the best out there,” said Gloria Atanmo, the travel blogger behind The Blog Abroad. “It curates key phrases, includes an interactive phrasebook and also has cool features like a voice translator and tip calculator.” In addition to helpful information on culture and currency; the app has more than 30,000 recorded audio files (you can download a pack specific to your destination), as well as a massive offline word dictionary and thousands of phrases in various languages. But perhaps its coolest features are the instant voice translator that’s available in 42 languages (speak a sentence into your phone, and you’ll hear it back in the desired language) and the ability to connect with a human translator if need be (you’ll pay by the minute). The free version includes all of these features; but you can access even more content with a premium subscription, which you can buy for one month (for $19.99), three months ($39.99) or a year ($99.99).
Google Translate offers a slew of helpful translating features, all for free. “It can translate text [and] audio, and what I love most is that you can take a photo of a menu at a restaurant and it will translate the menu items for you,” said Katelyn Smith, founder of The Remote Nomad and WiFly Nomads. You can also use your touchscreen to draw text characters and get an automatic translation through the app. Google Translate’s basic online text translation is available in 103 languages, with other features (including offline text translation if you don’t have an internet connection) available in varying lesser numbers of languages.
If you’re heading to China, Japan or Korea and don’t know the language, WayGo is worth a download. The app, which is only available in those three languages, makes it easy for you to decipher menus and signage on the go. Rather than type what you see, you can simply point your camera at the text in question and the free app will instantly show you the English translation.
If you want to really learn a language before or during your trip (versus translating words and phrases as you need them), Memrise can help you do so through a collection of more than 200 virtual courses. “I’m...a fan of Memrise because it’s community-based and lets you listen to locals before you learn,” Atanmo said. “It’s a perfect combination of entertainment with relevant content to enhance your language-learning experience, or at least make you look cooler by knowing local slang before you arrive.” While you can try some lessons in the free version, if you want access to all of the courses, you’ll need a subscription, with options starting at $5 per month.
iTranslate Voice makes it so that you can have a full-blown conversation in two languages, working off of one phone or by pairing two phones with the “AirTranslate” feature. After you select the two languages, just say what you need to into the phone and the app will provide both a text and an audio translation for the other person; when they respond in their language, it will translate what they say back into English for you. The app does require a subscription, which you can purchase two months at a time (for $9.99) or annually (for $39.99).