Picture this: sat on the patio of a trattoria looking out over a vineyard, the first day of your perfect Italian adventure, you open the menu… and remember that the only Italian you know you learned from Roman Holiday. The server bustles over to take your order, and the only word that you recognize coming out of his mouth is ‘ciao’. How will you ever order your pasta and wine when you can’t read or communicate in Italian?!
Well, luckily for you and your English-speaking self, it’s 2019, and the chances that you have a phone with you are extremely high. With the help of a few handy translation apps (and even a couple of tools built right into your phone!), you can communicate with anyone, around the world, and in any language, totally seamlessly. Here are our top picks for translation tools for globetrotters.
The built-in assistant included on Apple products is good for more than setting timers and reminders– try asking her how to order a bottle of wine in Italian and she’ll say it for you on the spot. Siri can translate from English into nine languages, so in a pinch, it’s a great option with no additional app downloading necessary. A note though, her translation requires internet access, so make sure you have international data or have connected to the local wifi.
For a free translation app, you can’t beat Google Translate. The app allows you to translate in four different ways, making it the most effective translation tool on our list. And the best part? If you plan ahead and download an offline translation file for the language you’ll need, you don’t even need to be connected to the internet to access on-the-spot translations. Let’s break the four different functions down individually, for a full picture of this valuable tool.
Camera: Remember that menu you were struggling to decipher? With this app, you don’t need to panic! By tapping the camera function and pointing it at the menu (or the sign in the airport or the metro map… the possibilities here are endless!), clicking a quick pic and then highlighting the text you aren’t understanding, you can instantly translate those words back to your mother tongue.
Handwriting: Need to quickly translate a word or two? Quickly scribble them in the app with your finger for an instant translation, no speaking or typing necessary! This is especially useful for languages that feature characters and letters outside of our Roman alphabet.
Conversation: Remember that order you are trying to place in the Italian trattoria? The conversation function switches seamlessly between the two languages of a conversation to instantly translate both speakers after each person says their piece. With its ability to listen for two languages at once, you and your waiter can converse without fear of misunderstanding, and it won’t take much longer to place your order than if you spoke fluent Italian to begin with!
Voice: This function is one that you can find on most translation apps: a straight-forward voice translator. The one added perk to Google’s version is the ‘detect language’ function. If you don’t know what language you’ve encountered, the app can still help you out, assuming you are connected to the internet.
One step beyond Google Translate’s already endlessly cool camera function is the Photo Translator app. While much less multifunctional than the Google app, this one will tell you the name for different objects that you snap. Can’t remember the Italian word for grape? You’re one picture away from knowing it. This app also translates text from pictures in the same way that the Google app does, but doesn’t offer any of the voice functions. A good supplementary app, but beware of the subscription cost and in-app purchases that could make this a pricier option.
With many of the same functions as Google Translate, this paid option differentiates itself with its Apple Watch version. There’s something very James Bond-cool about translating using a watch while on a foreign adventure that feels irresistible. Beyond that, this app connects into iMessage allowing you to instantly translate texts from all your new friends from abroad.
Wherever you are headed next, the technology exists to make your visit a smooth one. Download one app (or all of them!) before your next travels and you’ll be navigating, speaking, and reading like a local. Ora, dov’è quel cameriere con il mio vino…