For the monolingual amongst us, getting your message across in foreign climes used to involve frantically flicking through a dog-eared phrasebook and then severely mispronouncing the necessary phrase, as the target of your fractured entreaty peers at you in bemusement.
Either that or repeating yourself in ever slower and louder English in the vain hope that an understanding would somehow ensue.
If you’re off an extended world trip, you don’t want to have to lug around a dozen different phrase books so you can haltingly order a beer in ten different languages.
Luckily, there are now many applications for your phone that will translate for you, from digital dictionaries to voice recognition apps that do the talking for you.
But how to choose the best app for your needs? Lingo24 is here to do the hard shopping for you and pick out ten of the best translation apps.
An app providing both spoken translations – meaning you speak into the phone in one language, and it speaks back in the other language – as well as text translations, Jibbigo was originally released for English-to-Spanish but has recently expanded to include Japanese, Chinese and an Iraqi dialect of Arabic. The Iraqi version has a focus on areas such as civil engineering and policing and it’s hoped that the app will help both military and civilian personnel to communicate in the field – handy if you happen to be taking your summer vacation in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Fancy asking a stranger for directions using Brad Pitt’s lips? iLingual allows you to take a snap of a mouth – yours, a friend’s or even one from a magazine – and then animates it as you deliver your translated dialogue to a (hopefully) amused audience. Hold the phone over your own mouth as it speaks for the most surreal results.
Odyssey has a feature allowing you to build your own sentence or question. Start by choosing a category and the first words (such as ‘I am…’) and the app will suggest ways to expand the phrase. It also has stock phrases of course, and will provide your translation onscreen or as a spoken audio clip pre-recorded by native speakers.
A dictionary and onscreen translator that can translate up to 23 languages, Lingoes doesn’t have the most comprehensive database but, for a free download, it’s a handy app to have installed.
Lonely Planet Phrasebooks
Lonely Planet are the undisputed kings of the traditional phrasebook market. Their mobile apps are not as in-depth as the paper versions and are pricier than most of their competitors but they do provide both text and verbal translations of their stock phrases and, with versions like Thai, Vietnamese and Swahili, they also cater for destinations overlooked by most other translators.
One of the more innovative solutions to translation problems, Converse allows two people to have a non-verbal conversation via instant messaging on the same phone. Each participant gets half the screen, with their own keyboard (accommodating non-Latin scripts such as Arabic and Hebrew) facing them. Messages are instantly translated and displayed on the other part of the screen.
This nifty app might not tell you what the local in front of you is talking about but, if you need to translate written text (say, a sign or a menu), you can take a snap of it with your phone’s camera and let Babelshot do the rest. You will need to be online to retrieve the translation though, so this is one for those with good roaming internet plans.
Coolgorilla Talking Phrasebooks
Easy to use and cheap to download, Coolgorilla talking phrasebooks each contain more than 500 words and phrases arranged in categories such as food and drink, accommodation and shopping. You don’t need an internet connection but you do need a separate download for each of the nine languages available.
Navita BB Translator
Navita is a free app for Blackberry that supports English, Spanish and Portuguese as an interface and can translate to and from more than 50 different languages. It integrates with core Blackberry messaging, SMS and browser apps so you can directly translate, say, an email or text message, or you can type phrases for translation directly into a text field box.
Record those barks and find out what your canine friend is really trying to tell you with Bowlingual (sample translation: ‘What are you waiting for? This belly doesn’t rub itself!’). Please note that as no native speakers have as yet reviewed the product, we cannot verify its accuracy…
Christian Arno is the founder of Lingo24, a global translation company with operations on four continents and clients in over sixty countries. They have an international network of over 4,000 freelance translators.