Obviously learning the basics of any language before you arrive in a new country is ideal but sometimes you just don’t have the time or are moving too fast to keep up. That’s when the technology you travel with can fill in the gaps. Although we’re not quite at Star Trek‘s universal translator yet, these tools can help you communicate on the fly with words you might not otherwise understand.
Talk Through Your iPhone
The free iOS app Vocre (previously mentioned) keeps getting better as new versions are released. Initially Vocre was only able to translate words from someone speaking to you from your physical vicinity but version 2.0 now lets you have translated phone conversations. (In the 55 languages Vocre currently supports.) Aside from the lack of an Android version and obvious lag time in translating, Vocre may not quite be practical for long conversations but just right when you’re fishing around for a specific word. Or asking a cute person out for a drink.
Another alternative is Google Translate (free download: Android and iOS) which also has a speech translation engine. It’s not quite as smooth as Vocre and better suited to short phrases yet worth checking out if you’re looking for another app to give you a speaking second opinion.
Translate Signs, Menus, And Other Written Text
Word Lens for iOS (previously mentioned) and CamTranslator (Android) translate written text in foreign languagesin real time as you point your mobile phone (or tablet) camera at the words in question. Both apps don’t work perfectly though well enough to decipher road signs, public notices, and most menus. Small text, unconventional fonts, and handwriting all confuse both (free) apps but without them you’ll just be completely 困惑.
It’s worth mentioning that you can combine the speech and text translations of all of the apps above using SpeechTrans (Android and iOS). The two drawbacks are the price, $14.99, and the fact that you have to take a picture of any text you want translated. (As opposed to the seamless function of both Word Lens and CamTranslator.) Still, if you want to combine your translation apps, SpeechTrans may be a good fit for you.
- Android users who want to test SpeechTrans (or most other apps for that matter) without paying for it upfront can give it a test drive using Amazon’s App Store.
Pronounce Español Without Saying “Pan” And Find Out What The Squiggly Line Is For
Speech translators like the several I’ve mentioned above do a great job getting your point across, especially when the recipient can smooth out rough pronunciation edges for you. But unless you want to sound like a robot speaking French who doesn’t know what a “ç” is, Forvo can give you the proper pronunciation to words in over 200 languages. The free website Forvo does have a iOS versions (around $0.99 per language) but if you stick to the site you can search for most any word for free.
Android users looking for a mobile alternative, you can check out the free Free Pronunciation Checker. The biggest drawback being it only supports 4 languages.
Be Sure Not To Accidentally Tell That Stranger Over There To Have Intercourse With His Mother
Languages are not only spoken – a fact we often take for granted – particularly when we’re showing someone in Greece things are O.K. or giving a British person an inverted peace sign. You can brush up on your obscene gestures at eDiplomat, where you’ll find a fairly comprehensive list, among other cultural etiquette. Fasten Seat Belts (previously mentioned) is less dry with handy animations that not only prevent you from inadvertently offending someone, but can show you practical advice like how to get around like a local.
Also, let me help those of you heading to Turkey but avoiding these um, common English words that translate into Turkish curses.
Get Social, Confident, And Meet Some Foreign Friends
Languages aren’t much use if they’re not spoken (says the guy who’s silently writing this) so get practicing with these 3 language social networks and perhaps meet up with some native speakers to boost your confidence. Although languages are only as difficult as they are different from your mother tongue, picking up a few words with some digital assistance should take next to no time at all.