You don’t have to jet off to foreign climes to flex your language skills. According to the Census Bureau there are over 300 languages spoken in the US today. We could all use a little help when conversing in an unfamiliar language, and our smartphones are equipped to provide it. You won’t get the nuanced skill of a real interpreter, but good language translation apps will get close enough for you to understand and be understood.
Google Translate (Free)
You can use the free Google Translate app to translate speech, text, handwriting, and even text in images. It can translate between over 70 languages now and you can have the results spoken aloud. The Conversation mode is ideal for communicating with someone when you don’t share a common language, but it can struggle with some accents. You can also download offline language packs so you don’t have to be connected to a network for the app to work. It’s probably the best option for Android smartphones and the iPhone version is not far behind, but BlackBerry and Windows Phone users should look elsewhere.
iTranslate (Free, $3 for Voice Recognition)
This is one of the most popular free language translation apps on iOS and it is now available for Android as well. It’s a well-made app that covers over 70 languages and provides a dictionary, text-to-speech, Romanization (which converts unfamiliar characters into English letters), and voice recognition via an in-app purchase. It has been updated for iOS 7 and has a nice, clear lay out that makes it very easy to use. The Android version isn’t quite as polished, but iPhone owners should definitely check it out.
SayHi Translate ($2)
If you really want a pocket interpreter so that you can have conversations with Italians, Chinese, or Greeks then this is $2 well spent. You get 41 languages as standard and the app is geared towards conversations where each side talks and the app speaks the translation aloud. It’s very easy to use and the full text of every translation is also provided on screen. You can unlock more languages and specific dialects via in-app purchases. Simple to use and relatively accurate, this is a great choice for iPhone or iPad owners. It’s a shame that it’s not yet available on other platforms.
Available on iOS
Navita Translator (Free)
This one is just for the BlackBerry owners out there, and it made our top ten BB10 apps for a reason. It’s a completely free download and it can translate more than 60 languages. You can type or speak your word or phrase and you’ll get a translation in text and spoken aloud. It’s not the prettiest app in the world, but we’ll take functionality over style all day long. This is the obvious choice for anyone rocking a BlackBerry, and it runs on earlier versions of the platform, too.
Available on BlackBerry
Bing Translator (Free)
Microsoft’s free language translation offering for Windows Phone matches Google Translate for features, although at 40 languages it doesn’t cover as much ground. You can translate text, speak into your phone, and hear translations spoken aloud. It also offers the option to snap a photo of a sign or a menu and translate the text within it. There’s an offline mode that enables you to download a language pack and use the app even when you’re not connected to a network. It’s the best choice for Windows Phone users, although VoiceTranslator is another free app on the platform that’s worth trying.
Available on Windows Phone
Jibbigo Translator (Free, $5 for offline packs)
The Jibbigo app has been around for a while and it features good quality speech recognition and translation. Online translations are free, but you’ll need to purchase a language pack at $5 each for offline use. The app will interpret speech or text for more than 25 languages and it provides text and spoken translations in the language of your choice. Interestingly, this app and the team behind it was recently acquired by Facebook.
VerbalizeIt ($10 for 5 minutes)
It’s tough for apps to pick up on subtle differences in meaning, and they can’t take context into account, so you will inevitably get the odd mistranslation. If you’re in a situation, such as a business meeting, where you really can’t afford any inaccuracy, then there’s no substitute for a human translator. This app connects you with a real live translator who can ensure your message gets across. It is expensive, starting at $10 for five minutes of a translator’s time, but you’ll get discounted rates for buying larger chunks of time. You will also need to be connected to your network or Wi-Fi. It covers over 60 languages and offers document translation and audio transcription as well.
Our final language translation app is a relatively new release and it’s only available on Android right now. The idea is to provide real-time translation services during a phone call. You use the app to call any number worldwide, you can also use your existing contacts, and the app will translate both sides of the call as you speak. There’s no need for an Internet connection. The app itself is free, but calls are charged at per minute rates with discounts for subscriptions designed to cater for heavier users. The basic charges with no subscription fees are 30 cents per minute for calling a landline and 40 cents per minute to call a mobile. You can also use the app for face to face translations at 10 cents per minute. At the moment it only covers around 10 languages, but this is one to watch.
Available on Android
That’s it for our best language translation apps roundup, but we’ll update this list in future. Please post a comment and share your experiences with these apps or your recommendations for other apps worth checking out.