Lost in Translation: There’s an App for That

June 5, 2012

Foreign destinations are always a thrilling place to visit.  After all, you can only get so excited about traveling somewhere local.  Traveling overseas, however, offers so much more in terms of new things to see and experience, and for most true globetrotters, it is those differences that make it all worthwhile.  Going abroad can present some challenges other than trying to figure out how to occupy your time during lengthy airport layovers.  Communication.  Chances are, your foreign destination also comes with a foreign language and unless you are a multi-linguist, you may encounter some harrowing interactions with the local that leave you frustrated with your English-to-[insert language here] dictionary and performing flamboyant hand gestures in hopes of bridging the communication gap.

We at International Career Studies encourage you to always try and learn a new language.  Becoming bilingual has many benefits which we spoke about in another post done back in March entitled “Je ne parle pas le français… o español”.  Speaking the language on a regular basis is the best way to learn of course, but for the intrepid traveler who is concerned about getting by between now and the day they are completely fluent in Yiddish, here are some helpful tools for your mobile device or computer that can help make the transition between blundering mono-linguist to smooth talker a bit easier.

1. Jibbigo Voice Translator

Despite the funny name, Jibbigo is a fantastic speech-to-speech translation app for your iPhone or Android device.  Voted one of Travel & Leisure’s Top Travel Apps, this application allows the user to speak into the device and then have the device speak back the sentence in the desired language.

It features state-of-the-art voice recognition software, a vocabulary of over 40,000 words, includes a dictionary, onscreen speech display and for super convenience, the app does need to be connected to a network in order to function.  And what is perhaps the best feature, is that Jibbigo is bi-directional which means that you can turn it towards the person you are trying to communicate with in order to carry out a full conversation.

2. Word Lens App

Developed by QuestVisual, this application for mobile devices had an amazing launch with the spread of a viral demonstration video which amazed and astounded people.  This is a visual app that allows you to point the camera on your iPhone at words on a menu, sign or even billboard and have them translated.  It also features a dictionary and like Jibbigo, does not require you to be connected to a network.

The downside is that it can get a little pricey and the translations only go one way.  For example, you would have to purchase the English-to-Spanish translator for $10.00 and the Spanish-to-English translator for another $10.00.  However for travelers who are constantly befuddled by street signs and menus, this magical app is definitely worth it.

3. Reverso

This free online translator, while not horrible pretty to look at, gets the job done.  While it does require a connection to the internet in order to access, this service allows you to copy and paste in your text and then translates it into the desired language with just a simple click.  It also offers a dictionary, conjugation guide, grammar tutorial and a few other nifty features that go beyond simply translating a phrase to helping you understand the sentence construction which is great if you are actually trying to learn the language.

4. Google Translate

And of course, let us not forget Google.  This powerful search engine offers a basic online translation service and app for your mobile device for free.  Whether you only need to enter a single word, a single sentence or an entire document, it can handle just about anything you throw at it.  Simple and easy to use, Google Translate has voice input for 17 languages, spoken translations for 24 languages and text translations for 63.

For anyone who has used this service before, you already know that it has the potential to distort many of the available translations, specifically those with abstract alphabets and characters; however, it is accurate enough to get the gist across when traveling and it is free so we can forgive it for being grammatically incorrect at times.

Now, that’s not to say a standard hard copy dictionary isn’t worth investing in for that time when your mobile battery dies but with so many fast and easy applications out there, it is hard for the average traveler not to admit the value in having a digital copy at hand that won’t leave pronunciation up to the imagination.  Do you have a favourite app that you use while traveling?  We’d love to hear which tools you have used and found useful.

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One Response to “Lost in Translation: There’s an App for That”

  1. Blog says:

    [...] the exotic food you try for the first time in your life. To overcome language barriers, try these translation applications which can help. Also, try to listen to broadcasts in the new language and perhaps take a few basic [...]

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