To some extent, native English speakers have it easy. One in five people worldwide speak their language, making it easy to be understood from Athens to Zagreb. And for those of us who learned English as children, the languages we chose in high school or improved upon during our studies abroad make the world feel even more interconnected.
But sometimes, that advantage still leaves us literally speechless. When trying to communicate with a taxi driver in Tokyo or choosing the right cold medicine in France (how do you say “non-drowsy”, again?) there are limits to what rudimentary language skills or a helpful friend can do.
All have free versions and are available for both Android and iPhone.
The best for global coverage. Google Translate Since 2006, this free application has been breaking the language barrier for travellers around the world, and its algorithmic machine learning methods are constantly improving (and learning more languages). Its technology is now available to developers worldwide via a public API, giving us smarter translation tools than ever before.
After eight months of road trials in France, Spain, Germany and Japan, these are three of the applications that stood the test of time. All have free versions and are available for both Android and iPhone devices.
Why we like it: With the ability to automatically detect and translate over 100 languages in both directions by text, voice and character recognition, this application covers a greater portion of the world than any other; competitors even use its technology as a basis for providing unique specialist features and regional expertise.
Warning: if you insert large pieces of text or anything vaguely technical, Google will have difficulties, sometimes comical. Use Lens - which activates Google Translate from your phone's camera - to translate the label on a package of un-homogenised whole milk in a Kyoto supermarket, for example, and it might tell you that it is "Breaking globules of fat by homogenising without making a homogenous milk near milked fish made in the most traditional way".
Best for business trips. TripLingo Why we like it: More than a translator, TripLingo is a complete tourism application that aims to minimise miscommunication and errors when travelling abroad. It offers instant, text- and voice-based translations in 42 languages, plus guidelines on local customs, etiquette and tips from around the world (there are even sections with medical and safety phrases, just in case).
Note: Most basic features are free, but some exclusive premium features require a £20 monthly subscription, including language lessons, customised phrase lists and a live translation every 30 days.
Best for large groups Microsoft translator Why we like it: Compared to other technological monsters, Microsoft offers a small number of languages, just over 60 in total. It stands out, however, for its ability to translate multiple languages simultaneously, all as part of a single conversation. Whether in a boardroom with executives from a company's six regional offices or in a restaurant with global customers, this application will quickly translate everyone's thoughts for each participant on their respective phones.
Note: only 40 of the application languages are available without an internet connection. Thanks for reading our review. Thee apps are great if you want to be understood while travelling or are at home and surrounded by people you don't understand. However, if you need a certified translation for official procedures, just get in touch. We're here to help.