Lost in Translation No More: Four Translation Apps Reviewed

Elaine N. Schoch is an avid traveler who is busy exploring the world, usually with her two kids in tow. She shares her adventures, travel advice and tips on CarpeTravel.com and @elaineschoch.

Google Translate

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Google Translate offers translation services for more than 60 languages, both speech recognition and text. The best part is it works and it's FREE. Each translation Google Translate provides includes a written phonetic translation in addition to the audio recording. I found phonetic translation is key for translation apps. You'd think that would be a common feature to include but apparently not…

How it Works: Using this app you can translate in and out of using typed words or using your devices microphone to speak your phrases. The speech recognition feature is extremely useful as I could type in (or say) what I needed translated and then show the person my phones screen with the translation, they could then respond verbally and I could easily view their response on my phone while also hearing it translated in English. This was particularly useful when we were traveling in Russia since the alphabet is different; they couldn't easily type in a response given the need to switch keyboards on the phone.

On The Downside: The one knock against Google Translate is you have to have WiFi for it to work. However, Google being the machine that it is created a bit of a work around. Users who think ahead can star their favorite translations or most used translations and keep them for offline viewing. This feature seemed to come in the most handy when we were at restaurants and needed to ask for things such as an English menu and ice for our drinks.

Verdict: This is the easiest translation app to use and proved to be the most useful on my travels. Download it now!

Wi-Fi: Required

Price: Free

Availability: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android


iSpeak
Given I was traveling to Russia I downloaded the iSpeak Russian app but there are several different languages to choose from—Italian, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, etc. The interface is very clean and simple to use. The text to speech engine worked instantly and was extremely clear. You do need Internet connection for iSpeak to work though.

iSpeak Russian does use Google's translation service; I assume the other languages do as well but did not confirm. In other words, this app might be overkill if you've already downloaded Google Translate. I said MIGHT. When traveling some apps work in some places and some don't the more I had in my pocket, the better off I was, especially when traveling in Siberia.

How it Works: The app is very straightforward. You simply type in what you need translated and it provides the translation in both text and speech. The catch though, you only get the text back in the translated language; no phonetic translation. You can save the translation, email it and/or text it. The saving feature is very useful as you can then go back and access it later if needed (and if you're offline).

On The Downside: While I really liked this app and found it to be quit useful it did not provide a phonetic translation. That's a big knock for me given I actually want to try to learn and remember a word I'm translating and if I don't know how to pronounce an upside down it's not going to happen. I was also disappointed it didn't provide a speech-to-speech translation feature; it does offer text-to-speech translation.

Verdict: It's reliable and works. Download it as a back-up app.

WifFi: Required

Pricing: $1.99

Availability: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

 

Jibbigo
Jibbigo was featured as one of Travel and Leisure's Best Travel Apps of 2010 and for good reason. It is one of the only speech translator apps that will interpret for you wherever you go—no WiFi network connection. Finally! This app has really evolved from a traditional translation app to a corporate solution for businesses engaging internationally. While users can still download its speech recognition technology for simple translations during their travels businesses can now leverage its platform for customized development and even lecture/presentation translations. In a nutshell, it's a very cool app.

How it Works: Jibbigo is dubbed a speech translator, meaning you speak a sentence, and it speaks the sentence aloud in the other language. The person you're speaking to can then respond verbally and you receive the translation back in your selected language. Pretty cool as you can have a full on conversation with someone in a different language. Oh, and the best part is it works and there aren't any lags or delays given you don't need Internet connection.

Jibbigo interprets the spoken translation into text and posts it on your phones screen so you can be sure your translation is accurate. If it's not, you can easily type in the correction or speak it again. The app does include a dictionary, which is useful if you simply need to look something up.

Right now Jibbigo has only 12 languages you can purchase and you must buy each one separately, although they're really not that pricey; the highest is $13.99. The languages include Thai, Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Iraqi, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog. I'm hoping they add Russian and Italian soon (hint, hint).

On The Downside: The only downer here was Jibbigo didn't provide a phonetic translation. I didn't find this to be as bad though since I was working with the Spanish app and our alphabets are so similar it was easier to decipher than say Russian. However, take note as Thai, Chinese and Japanese might prove less friendly. Given its "always on" capabilities though this may prove less important.

Verdict: A great app that is totally worth the investment. Download it now! 

WifFi: NOT Required

Pricing: You must purchase each language pairing separately and price varies for each. They range from $4.99-$13.99.

Availability: iPhone, iPad, iPod, Android

Take Note: The Lonely Planet Offline Translator app uses Jibbigo's platform and is essentially identical. Check the prices of each before making your purchase. You may be able to save some cash.

 

WordLens
WordLens is designed to take photos of signs and then interpret them. However, you can use it to interpret anything in text, like a magazine or newspaper page. It's VERY helpful when you're traveling internationally.

How it Works: Simply point and click a photo of the image using WordLens' built in camera and viola instant translation.

On The Downside: There doesn't seem to be a way to save the images so you could revisit them and/or share them later. This was a little annoying when you're trying to remember the meanings of street and traffic signs. WordLens also does NOT recognize handwriting or stylized fonts. That's not a huge deal but something that may hinder your translation ability.

It is currently limited in languages; Spanish, French and Italian.

Verdict: Get it before your next trip. You'll be able to translate street signs and most restaurant menus.

WifFi: NOT Required

Pricing: $4.99 for each individual language; language packs must be purchased separately from within the app

Availability: iPhone, iPad, iPod

Have you used any of these apps? What worked and what didn't? What translation apps have you used? Are there ones you prefer over others and why?

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