Gone are the days of flipping through a phrasebook, frantically trying to find the words to communicate. Today it’s all about the apps, especially if you’re traveling to a country where Internet connections are widespread (and where the spoken language is not an obscure dialect).
A new voice translation app has been riding high on Apple’s Top 25 paid apps list: iTranslate Voice ($0.99). Speak into this nifty little app in any one of 31 languages, and it talks back with the translation in your language of choice.
Why has it become so popular?
First, I’ve found its speech recognition to be superb: it even nailed tough proper nouns like “Tristan da Cunha” on the first try. Second, and most remarkably, it was able to understand my Spanish — and I’m one of those people that speaks with a horrific American accent, the “r” getting stuck in my throat instead of cleanly rolling off. The app also recognized basic phrases that I spoke in German, Italian, French, Portugese and Russian, and translated them correctly each time.
Of course, a voice translation app is nothing new: Google Translate has been around for years, and it has a free app that supports 64 languages, more than double the number offered by iTranslate Voice. The difference? I’ve found that the voice recognition and grammar/syntax of iTranslate Voice (at least going from English to Spanish and vice versa) mostly surpasses that of Google Translate. Though for phrases such as “I’d like the bill/check please,” iTranslate gave me “proyecto de ley” and “el control” instead of the correct “la cuenta,” which Google Translate got for both versions.
For both apps, you need an Internet connection. And people have commented that the apps don’t perform as well for less popular languages (like Norwegian and Polish as opposed to Spanish and French).
My favorite translation app of all time is Word Lens — this one still blows my mind. It translates between English and Spanish/French in real time and onto the video image itself. It works best for standalone signs, rather than full pages of text. The app is free to download but you must purchase “language packs” within the app (e.g., $9.99 for French to English). If you haven’t seen Word Lens in action, definitely spend a minute checking out their demo video.
Which translation apps do you use on the road? Feel free to share your recommendations in the comments.