Believe it or not, one of the comments I hear quite a bit from my friends who only travel occasionally is “How can you travel somewhere when you don’t know the language?” While I know a smattering of German from having studied it for seven years, I am by no means fluent. And while I can speak just enough Spanish to get by, my French is, on the other hand, severely limited. Not being able to communicate freely might be a bit frustrating, but it should never hold you back from traveling.
I have learned that taking the time to learn basic phrases such as hello and good-bye, please, thank you, excuse me, and the word ‘where’ goes a long way when traveling in a country where you don’t know the language. And people are generally pleased that you are willing to make the effort to try to learn some of their native language. There are websites such as Omniglot that can help you prepare prior to a trip. And, as for so many other things, there are apps for translation.
I use the Google Translate iPhone app quite a bit when I travel because it is one of the most simple of language translation apps offered. I have used it in Hong Kong when talking with taxi drivers and shopkeepers – in Istanbul when communicating with my hair stylist – and in Thailand when watching a group of motorcyclists play high-low. I also use it to brush up on those ‘simple’ phrases I should be able to remember, but sometimes forget the pronunciation, before I need to use them.
Google Translate is quite simple to use. All you have to do is choose your input and output language and type or speak your text. To switch from one language to the other, just tap the center screen arrow icon. Tap the microphone to speak your text and tap the speaker to listen in the language you have chosen.
The app also allows you to write your words and sentences on a small screen rather than having to type. It will then turn what you write into print and continue with the translation (It was hard to catch with a screen shot because it is so fast, so here is the best I could do). Also, from what I have read, the Google Translate app for Android has the ability to translate from photo images.
You can use voice command for translations for over 15 languages, as well as listen to spoken translations in over 20 languages. There are also over 60 interchangeable languages available for text translation. The interface is simple to use and draws from Google’s vast resources to deliver accurate translations, even suggesting alternatives for misspelled translations.
According to the publisher’s description, Google Translate will:
- Translate text between more than 70 languages including seven new languages: for 7 new languages: Bosnian, Cebuano, Hmong, Javanese, Khmer, Lao, Marathi
- Listen to your translations spoken aloud
- Directly translate speech and Handwriting input – write words with your finger to enter text for 49 languages
- Star your favorite translations for quick access even if you are offline
- View dictionary results for single words or phrases
The major downside to Google Translate is that you will need an internet connection in order to use it. I often translate and screenshot the result in case I may need them later and do not have an internet connection.
There are loads of other translation apps which will do a lot more fancy things such as Word Lens which translates printed words using your phone’s camera. However, while the app is free, each language pack that goes with it costs a whopping $4.99. Recently I discovered iTranslate which offers the basic app for free and, although I have downloaded it, I haven’t put it to practical use yet. In order for you to have voice recognition with iTranslate, however, here again you will pay $2.99 for the privilege and another $1.99 for a no-ads version.
For now, the Google Translate free app works just fine for me!