Which Universal Translator is Best?
A staple of many science fiction novels and movies, the universal translator is now a reality. Unlike Douglas Adams and Murray Leinster imagined, they are not implantable devices or ingestible microbes, but useful apps that can be accessed through your smartphone.
Universal translators convert speech or text into another language and they generally work in one of two ways. Some use the power of the internet for an instantaneous translation, and others use a downloaded dictionary.
Determining which is best largely depends on your connectivity while abroad. If you happen to have cell and internet service while traveling, your options are endless. If you opted to travel without an international cell plan, a pre-downloaded, searchable dictionary is the best option for you.
One of the best free options is iTranslate. iTranslate requires an internet connection to access the 90+ languages, however, it does offer a more limited downloadable version. Both are free to download, though it does contain ads. iTranslate Voice is a similar version of this app with a feature called AirTranslate, which allows the user to sync two devices. Once synced, one person can speak into their device in their native language and their words are translated and played aloud on other person’s device. In this way, person-to-person communication is possible despite language barriers. iTranslate Voice is available in 40 spoken languages at this time.
Google has an offering in this category as well. Much like iTranslate, Google Translate offers both an internet and offline option. Over 100 languages are available for text translation, while 32 offer instant speech translation. One feature that makes the Google option extra useful is “camera mode”. This option allows you to take a picture of written text, including signs, directions, and other messages, and translate that information. Currently, this is available for 37 languages.
Other options to consider are Easy Language Translator with 100+ languages, speech-to-text and text-to-speech features and Microsoft’s Skype Translator. Skype Translator works online only through the Skype program. It offers translations for 8 spoken languages and over 50 written languages, with more to come over time.
Even with all these amazing developments, current translator apps do have some downsides. Namely, these apps do not yet replace the fluency or nuances of a learned language, nor the inflections of speech. This can lead to confusion as most of these programs translate each individual word not the phrase as a whole. So while someone may say: “Estás aqui, estás a comer” and your app may translate it as “you are here, you are eating”, it’s idiomatic meaning in Portuguese is “I’m going to hurt you”. So it’s always a good idea to have more than one translating option or to know the general language structure of a country before visiting it.
Despite possible restrictions, this technology takes us one step closer to a more connected world.