When Douglas Adams invented the Babel Fish, “a small, yellow, leech-like odd thing” that would help you instantly understand anything said in any language in the whole wide universe, in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, little did he know that 39 years after the radio comedy was first broadcast, such technology would actually exist. New devices and updated translator apps are making it easier to understand a foreign language and are much simpler than “plugging in a fish into your ear”. Though the technology of machine translation still needs the wrinkles ironed out, it’s fun to try out some of these apps and devices when you’re travelling. Here’s a list of some of them. However, do expect errors and misunderstandings—up to 40%, in fact.
Heading to China, Korea or Japan and want an app to read the signboards and menus for you? WayGo fills this need by giving you the English translation for street signs, menus or anything that you point your smartphone camera at. All this without the use of the Internet.
Free for 10 translations per day and a one-time payment of Rs418 for the Pro version. Available in Google Play and App Store. Waygoapp.com.
iTranslate Voice 3 translates conversation between two people using smartphones. So if you’re speaking to someone in Spain, you hear English, and the other person hears you speak Spanish. The feature, called AirTranslate, needs two people talking on two iOS devices. Last updated in December, the app also offers text-to-speech, offline and text translation in 40 languages.
$6.99 (around Rs480) in Google Play and App store. Itranslatevoice.com.
Talk into your iOS devices and hear what you’ve said in a different language. SayHi is designed for instant communication. You can have a conversation with anyone without switching languages, even type rather than speak. The app works for around 40 languages, including Arabic, French, Italian, English and Spanish.
Free in App Store. Sayhitranslate.com.
Naver Papago translate
Heading to South Korea? Arm yourself with Papago, an app made in Korea that specializes in translation between English, Korean, Simplified Chinese and Japanese. The app can do voice translation to get real-time results, translate conversations, images and text. It will give you more relevant results than other translation apps for Korean.
Free in Google Play and App Store. Navercorp.com.
Need live translation when speaking to someone abroad? Download Microsoft Translator, an app that can live-translate speech and text, in real time. It recognizes speech in nine languages and written text in over 60 languages. You can download languages to translate offline, even make a group call with people who speak different languages and hear out everyone’s answers in yours. The app also supports voice in smartwatches and can instantly convert text in another language to yours so you can read signboards. Updated in December, the app has already seen more than a million downloads.
Free in Windows Store, App Store, Google Play and Amazon Apps.Translator.microsoft.com.
Love collecting titbits and colourful local phrases whenever you travel? Download TripLingo, which teaches you essential phrases as well as street slang so you can fit right in. It can even translate your words, or instantly connect you to a live translator if you can’t get the phrase right. The database offers around 26,000 phrases in 13 languages and instant voice translation in 19 of them. You even get an audio lesson, an offline dictionary and a currency converter and tip calculator within the app. The app has just started including image translation.
The basic version is free. Updates start from Rs624 in Google Play and App Store. Triplingo.com
One of the best apps out there, Google Translate supports more than 103 languages in typing. You can download 52 languages offline for times when you don’t have access to the Internet. Convert text in images to translated language for 29 languages and instantly talk two-way in 32 languages. One of the most useful features is that the app also works within any app. So you can copy-text in any app on your phone and a Google Translate icon will pop up. Accuracy still vary for machine translation but overall, the app is simple and easy to use. It was last updated in December and has seen more than a million downloads.
Free on Web, and in App Store and Google Play. Translate.google.com.
Pilot translation kit
Get the best translations in Europe right in your ear with this pair of earphones. The device consists of two earphones. One earphone listens to someone speaking next to you, while the other translates it into your ear. The earphones work offline and can also be used to listen to music. Currently, the device supports English, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Pre-order for $199. Shipping starts in May. Waverlylabs.com