10 Translation Apps Reviewed: Forget Being Lost in Translation When Traveling Abroad

– Posted in: Reviews, Technology and Travel, travel apps

When I travel internationally I try to learn key phrases and things to get by. Having taken Spanish for years in school and working in the restaurant business for way too long I know enough Spanish and Italian to get by in Mexico and even Italy. But Russia, that’s a different world with an entirely new alphabet. I mean really, how do you pronounce a triangle? Hello translation apps!

I found myself at a complete and utter lose and near panic when we were boarding our first flight into Moscow surrounded by native speakers. I had been so caught up in the details and paperwork of getting to Russia and our business there I simply glossed over the language barrier. I would of course have a translator with me most the time but still, shame on me! Thus began my frantic downloads of translations apps before the flight left the gate…

10 Translation Apps Reviewed

Here are few translations apps I found to be helpful (and not so helpful). I’m still using several to help with my learning the Russian language (and to help with my Spanish since Princess One insists on asking what EVERY word is in Spanish. Oye Vye!).

Please do share any other translation apps in the comments that you have used and either like/dislike.

10 Translation Apps Reviewed

 

Google Translate

1. Google Translate
This is my favorite translation app and proved to be the most useful. Not only does Google Translate offer more than 50 languages, you can translate in and out of using words or using your devices microphone. I loved this feature as I could type in what I needed to say and then show the person my phone, they could then respond verbally and I could easily view/hear their response. Each  translation includes a written phonetic translation in addition to the audio recording. Phonetic translation is key, especially when the alphabet is so different. You’d think that would be a common thing for apps but apparently not…  The one knock and this goes for most translation apps is you have to have wifi for it work. However, Google being the machine that it is created a bit of a work around. Users can “star” their favorite 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. I know, ice in Siberia but really Coke without ice just isn’t Coke. It also saved me when I had to ask the hotel maid in Chita, Siberia for a hair dryer and iron. There is no way I would have been presentable for my meeting the next morning without the help from Google Translate.
Price: Free
Availability:  iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android

 

2. SpeakEasy

I downloaded this app specifically for Russia (SpeakEasy Russian) as it’s more of a phrase or pocketbook dictionary. It includes essential phrases broken out into categories on topics such as meeting people, eating, transportation, sightseeing, shopping, emergencies, hotel, money, etc. Each phrase includes a translation to Russian with a phonetic translation and audio recording. (Phonetic translation is key, especially when the alphabet is so different.) Since the content is already in the app and there is no searching required you don’t need an internet connection for it to work. I didn’t have this app the first trip to Russia but used it quit a bit the second and third trips. It’s a helpful little app and I really liked the ease of use of things being broken into categories. You can also purchase additional Phrase Packs ($.99-$5) such as Common Topics (weather, sports), Health Problem and Hospital, Nature Pack.

Pricing: Free, limited resources though and a $3.99 version. Pay the $3.99, it’s worth it.

Availability: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

 

3.  iSpeak

I downloaded the iSpeak Russian app but there are several different languages to choose from – Italian, Spanish, French, etc. The interface was very clean and simple to use and the text to speech engine worked instantly and was extremely clear. Note, you do need internet connection for iSpeak to work. While I really liked this app and found it to be quit useful it did not provide a phonetic translation. Yes, there is the text to speech but for people who are visual learners (me) I need the phonetic translation to really remember the words. I also later learned that iSpeak Russian uses Google’s translation service; I assume the other languages do as well but did not confirm. So, this app might be overkill if you’ve already downloaded Google Translate. I said MIGHT as I’m all about having a few different apps to pick from since one may not “feel like” working with me. I found this to be rather common occurrence when traveling in Russia so for sure download at least two different translation apps to use.

Pricing: $1.99

Availability: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

 

4. Interpret
Interpret translates 50 languages and also uses Google Translate and Bings translation systems to supplement the results. Again, an internet connection is required. Like Google Translate, you can “favorite” translations to use when you’re offline. Reviewers in iTunes say this is the best FREE translation app. Its good but you’re pretty much getting the same thing with Google Translate. Although, with Interpret you can share your translations via email, Facebook and Twitter.
Pricing: Free
Availability: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

 

5. Lonely Planet Offline Translator

If only they had a Russian app! This would be THE APP of ALL TRANSLATION APPS if they had a Russian version. Actually, it’s still pretty cool I just didn’t get to use it in Russia. I did download the Spanish app and have enjoyed using it during Princess One’s Spanish Q&A sessions. I think she actually enjoys it and uses it more than I do right now.

Using Lonely Planet Offline Translator app you simply speak or type a phrase and it will instantly give you the audio and text translation. No internet connection is required! You won’t rack up roaming or data fees so you can translate away. It works similar to the other apps noted here; type or speak what you’d like translated, viola. You get it back in text with a written phonetic translation and audio clip. It also can translate from English to a foreign language or from a foreign language to English. Lonely Planet Offline Translator apps are currently only available in Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog and Iraqi Arabic.

Lonely Planet does offer a Russian to English Phrase Book for $5.99. Actually, it offers several language phrase books so if you can’t leverage the Lonely Planet Offline Translator app check the phrase books out.

Price: $7.99
Availability: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

 

6. Jibbigo
Jibbigo is the ONLY speech translator that will interpret for you wherever you go — no network connection required and no risk of incurring high roaming fees when traveling. Similar to Google Translate Jibbigo acts as a speech translator: You simply speak a sentence, and it speaks the sentence aloud in the other language, much like a personal human interpreter would. Jibbigo also shows the recognition and translation on the app screen, so you can be sure your translation is accurate. Jibbigo was featured as one of Travel and Leisure’s “Best Travel Apps of 2010.”

I wasn’t able to use Jibbigo in Russia though since it has fairly limited language pairs right now: Thai, Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Iraqi, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog but NO RUSSIAN. Which is a bummer because this app really does look amazing and could have helped me SO MUCH!!! Ah, but France might be in the near future so perhaps then I can truly test it out. (Please add Italian too!!)

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

Availability: iPhone, Android

 

7. Word Lens

Word Lens translates languages on signs right before your eyes, simply take a picture with your phone and it translates from one language to the next. It’s very cool BUT right now the language options are limited. English/French/Spanish. Didn’t help when we were in Russia when I was trying to order at Subway. I mean really, how do you pronounce an upside down, lower cased h? Thank God I could just point… I kept WordLens in the list given how easy it is to use and how helpful it can be if you’re in the right country.
Price: Free but not really. It’s free to download but if you actually want to take photos and translate it there is a $9.99 change to purchase that language. Once the language is purchased you don’t have to buy it again.
Availability: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

 

8.  Translator

Using Translator you can speak into your phone and it translates your verbal message into text and you can then play it back in the translated language. There are more than 50 languages to work with. I did find its voice support wasn’t always correct when translated into print, which is annoying but it does show you the words in your language before it translates to ensure it’s correct. The problem with this is that if you are trying to speak with someone say in Russian and ask them to record their response, if it’s incorrect it’s not so easy for them to type in the correct words given the different alphabet (different alphabet requires different keyboards). This app also requires wifi to work and you can’t star phrases to go back to and look at later. However, all your translations are saved, similar to a text message conversation so you can go back to see them, you just have to scroll and scroll if you’ve done a lot of translations. There is a free version to this app but you only get a few free translations until they try to buy the paid version. This was super annoying as I didn’t know this and kept trying to get the app AND with limited wifi even when I did try to buy it I couldn’t download it until I got back to the hotel.  Translator also provides the ability to email and text the translation if you want to share or check things with others.

Price: Free or $2.99 (pony up and pay the $2.99)
Availability: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

 

9. Ultralingua

This app has gotten written up all over the web and has rave reviews. I’m just not getting it though…Ultralingua offers a variety of translation dictionaries, I specifically used the Russian dictionary.  This app is really one of the more expensive ones out there; Russia was $32.99. I’m not sure is worth the price, even though it is one of the only ones that provides Russian translations offline, which was the main attraction for me, plus the reviews. Ultralingua acts as a dictionary where you can search for words and phrase but it also provides other tools to help you learn and practice the language as well. The one thing to point out, this is more of a dictionary not a translation app. You can type in a few phrases but need to plan to stick to single words. The app didn’t offer phonetic translation and didn’t have audio clips.  Frankly, it was useless on my trip and I’m rather annoyed I paid so much for it. Again, how do you pronounce an upside down h?

Ultralingua does offer a few features other apps don’t, including flashcards, verb conjugation, grammar references, internet tools, and a hot key for use in email, web browsers, PDF files, documents, etc. An additional key differentiators is its verb conjunction database. From what I’ve seen, Ultralingua is the only translation app that provides this.

The bottom line, without phonetic translation or text to speech you can’t really use it for Russian. I did check out the Spanish app and given English and Spanish share the same alphabet and phonetics (for the most part) it could work.

Pricing: Prices vary per language. Starting at $19.99-$32.99 (for Russian)

Availability: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch (there is also a desktop version you can download)

10. iLinguist

iLinguist offers two translation apps – iLinguist West and  iLinguist East. iLinguist West translates between English and one of five Western European languages: German, French, Italian, Dutch and Finnish. While iLinguist East translates between English and one of five Eastern European languages: Czech, Russian, Polish, Slovak and Croatian. While reviews are mixed this app does NOT require internet service to work. YEAH!  Of course I downloaded iLinguist East for the trips to Russia. To be honest, it never worked properly. You’re able to search expressions, which to me also means words. For instance, where is the bathroom or hello should be expressions in the database. Nope. In fact, I tried these two expressions in all the languages in iLinguist East and got nothing. Save your cash.

Pricing: iLinguist West is available for $4.99; iLinguist East is available for $2.99
Availability: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

 

What translation apps have you used? Any mentioned here? How did they work for you?

 


 

15 Comments… add one

Russian translation November 27, 2012, 9:43 am

Great blog! The information you provide is quiet helpful, why I was not able to find it earlier.

Russian translation

English to Russian translation December 27, 2012, 8:05 am

Please keep it up because the worldwide web has someone like you to get the information out. I really liked the details.

English to Russian translation

ElaineSchoch January 8, 2013, 3:21 am

Thanks for the feedback!

M @StyleSizzle March 25, 2013, 11:58 pm

Great post. I’m traveling to Russia as well in the next few days and looking for a good translation app since we speak, well, no Russian. Sounds like iSpeak may be the way to go? Will download their trial to check out before we leave. Thanks!

M @StyleSizzle March 25, 2013, 11:59 pm

Woops, I mean SpeakEasy :)

Elaine Schoch March 26, 2013, 9:45 pm

Have a great trip! Let me know which one works best for you.

Japanese Enjoy Lodges June 11, 2013, 11:43 am

Thank you for some other informative blog. Where else could I get that
type of information written in such a perfect method?

I’ve a undertaking that I’m simply now operating on, and I’ve been on the glance out for such information.
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rivett June 25, 2013, 8:53 am

Adding localisation is a topic of discussion to software developers. To some extent, translation can be a quick procedure to an existing app. However, on the other hand, it’s questionable if those markets are valid without a marketing effort. While there are some posts discussing the effectiveness, I think things are too soon to say.

DIJO November 1, 2013, 5:30 am

Sparkling Apps developed the easiest translator yet: Voice to Voice. Just start the app and start speaking, it will recognize the language and speak out the corresponding translation. It was approved by Apple this week and is available now, for FREE during launch period.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/voice-to-voice-realtime-interpreter/id692721794?ls=1&mt=8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtgRJY-WtXs

Elaine Schoch November 1, 2013, 11:03 pm

Thanks for letting me know. I need to do an update to this review and will add this to the list of apps to look at when I do.

Rae Buchanan November 26, 2013, 5:01 pm

Wow! Some of these apps look amazing! Especially that Jibbigo, wow talks for you?? I might need that app to communicate with my oldest boy. Sometimes it feel like we speak different languages.
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Tammy November 30, 2013, 8:39 am

I’ve downloaded so many language apps for my kids. They should be able to speak French and Mandarin by now…
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Aideen January 19, 2014, 6:38 am

So um, I’ve been using google translate for quite a while now. Great tool but half the times it’s far from being even remotely accurate when you are trying to communicate with other Russian native speakers, unless you already have a previous solid knowledge of the language. Specially when you have to deal with the average Russian speaker, you will notice they use a lot of slang which google seems to misinterpret 99% of the times. And that’s when google translator is practically useless. So in short words, google is cool for translating simple words, but it’s still kind of useless at the time of translating more complex sentences or phrases.

Elaine Schoch January 19, 2014, 8:40 pm

That’s a very good point. Most of my translation needs were simple, short words or phrases so it worked well for me. I also found specifically in Russia that the language varied from say Moscow to Chita, Siberia so the simple words did work but not longer, more complex sentences.

Kevin March 24, 2014, 1:27 pm

Hi Elaine, translation apps are a great help while travelling abroad. So, its better to rely on translation apps rather than being lost in translation. Thanks for sharing this list of translation apps.
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