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The best translation apps: which is the right one for you?

Learning a new language is always a challenge. You generally pick it up faster if you live in the country where it’s spoken. Regardless of whether you are traveling on holiday or are on a business trip, knowing a few words of the country’s language makes it so much easier to communicate with the locals. Thanks to modern translation apps, you don’t have to pack any heavy dictionaries — just take out your smartphone or tablet and you have everything you need.

What’s on offer ranges from a classic translator app with a simple dictionary, to speech recognition software that can even say phrases out loud so you can hear the correct pronunciation. There are translation apps that require an internet connection and other apps that work offline.

Here is a selection of some apps to help you get an overview and quickly decide which translation app best fits your needs.

Google Translate: translation app from the search engine giant

Every internet user knows Google so it’s no surprise that not only Google’s search engine, but also its translator is used by millions of people. The translation program is also available as an app for mobile devices, which is particularly impressive thanks to its simple and easy-to-use interface.

The app can access 103 languages in its database in online mode. The various input methods are very practical: the most common is to enter a word or phrase from the keyboard. However, if you don’t have country-specific special characters stored on your keyboard, you can also draw the respective words with your finger. If you don’t know how to spell the word, you can alternatively make use of Google’s speech recognition and say the word into the microphone of your smartphone or tablet.

A further feature that comes in handy in restaurants and shops, is the ability to take a photo of a sign or a menu and feed it directly into the translator app. The program recognizes the letters and displays the correct translation. This special translation function is currently available in 30 languages. What’s also useful is the automatic SMS translator, which translates foreign-language SMS into your desired language.

With just a few clicks, you can select the input and output language and enter the desired text. In addition, the Google Translation app automatically displays possible alternatives to misspelled words. If you want to quickly change the language, the app has a button to switch from input to output language in just one click. All of the words or phrases you have searched for are stored in the history panel so you can access them again easily.

In addition to entering words into your device’s display, the application provides optical character recognition. This method, which is also known as OCR, is particularly handy when reading a handwritten text and translating words on pictures or signs, or other characters that you can’t identify. However, the function can’t be used for photos that are already in the device’s gallery. You have to photograph the words yourself in order to be able to translate them.

Until recently, an internet connection was still required to use Google Translate. The program can also be used offline, but you have to select the desired language packs beforehand and install them on your device. The required memory size per packet varies between 150 and 300 MB. Although the number of packages available to download is quite large (over 50), the vocabulary contained in these versions is not as extensive as the ones available online.

Google Translate is free and available for Android and iOS devices.

Advantages Disadvantages
Translation of photographed advertisements, signs, etc. possible Copy & paste from other websites or texts is occasionally flawed or doesn’t work, so texts then need to be entered manually
Easy to switch between languages Translation of complete sentences is often inaccurate
Saves pre-searched translations Translation quality varies between languages

iTranslate: a comprehensive and modern translation app

iTranslate is an award-winning application that supports more than 90 languages. The program is from Austrian start-up Sonico Mobile and is one of the most operable and accurate apps of its kind. The most interesting of the variety of functions is certainly the ingenious speech recognition. You just need to talk into your smartphone or tablet and the app delivers a precise translation.

In the user menu, you will find two circular microphones, each marked with a country flag. These show the currently selected input and output language. Click on the 'Options' button to select the desired languages.

When you tap the microphone icon, you can enter your text. The program converts spoken words into text, which is immediately displayed on the screen. If the application doesn’t reproduce a word correctly or misunderstands the phrase, tap the incorrect part and correct it yourself. iTranslate is also able to share translated phrases via Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, and SMS. You can also use the translation app to save your translated terms and then access them offline.

The standard version of the app is free for Android, iPhone, and iPad — but you have to accept the occasional advertisement in the free version. If you want to use speech recognition, you are obliged to invest $5.00 for the premium version or make do with the written interface.

Advantages Disadvantages
Easy-to-understand menu Voice recognition isn’t free
Input language can quickly be changed Voice output requires an internet connection
Translations can be shared via SMS or social media Advertisements in the free version are often distracting

iTranslate Voice: spoken translation directly from the device

The popular translator app, iTranslate Voice (not to be confused with various other apps from the Apple Store where 'itranslate' is part of the name), has been on the market since May 2012 and is a useful tool for quickly translating spoken words. The practical AirTranslate feature connects several devices and enables translations to be exchanged directly from one person to another.

With the voice-to-voice feature 'inVoice,' you can talk into the microphone and get the appropriate translation in real-time for the language you’ve selected.

The app’s design was deliberately kept simple and clear. The program is easy to navigate thanks to the round selection buttons at the bottom: to select the two languages, simply click on the Settings button. You can also adjust the volume and speed of text-to-speech here (AirPlay also supports the audio output of the translations), gain access to the most recently used languages, and display the advanced settings.

When you’re finished, tap the translation symbol at the bottom of the display and say a word, phrase, or whole sentence into the microphone. The text-to-speech feature converts spoken word into text and also repeats it out loud.

The menu is very similar to that of Siri in iOS, which means that the app is very user-friendly. Even beginners will be able to quickly orientate themselves since the menu is easy to navigate. The translation app covers a total of 42 languages. For many of these languages, the app is able to fully recognize spoken sentences.

It’s not only the program’s professionalism that’s impressive, some of the features make everyday use even more interesting and entertaining. If you want to read extra information on the language that you’ve currently selected, you can drag your finger down on the homepage to retrieve information about interesting language features. Tap the 'Share' button just below the text to copy this information to the clipboard so you can share it via SMS, e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook.

If you are looking for fun features, another one of iTranslate Voice’s features might be of interest to you: you can make your input text sound like one of the US presidents such as Obama or George W. Bush. The Presidential voice pack, however, costs extra at 99 cents.

iTranslate Voice is free for Android but costs about 6.99 dollars for iOS devices.

Advantages Disadvantages
Intuitive, clear menu Internet connection required for voice output
Easy to switch between many different languages Advertising
Fun features Not free for iOS

Waygo: the specialist for Asian languages

It’s not unusual to feel lost in an Asian country, for example, when street signs are only written in the country’s language. Waygo (similar to the Chinese term 'wài guó', which means 'foreign country') could be the answer. The visual translation app enables users to set their smartphone cameras to Chinese, Japanese, or Korean characters, and immediately get an English translation. You don’t need an internet or data connection for this.

Waygo is primarily geared to the needs of travelers in Asia and makes it easier for them by translating menus and signs in real-time. Direct translations are displayed, which is more convenient than having to look up each individual character, which could easily result in misunderstandings.

From the subway timetable to hand-written menus – Waygo aims to make life easier for travelers. The developer team currently focuses on Asian languages, mainly because of the visual characteristics of languages like Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. Other Asian language pairs are being planned and should be available soon. However, there are already many apps that offer a similar function. The optical character recognition of Google Translate, for example, also enables you to translate texts after taking a photo of it. So why is Waygo recommendable?

Waygo scores really quite well when compared to Google. Since the translator app is specially designed for dealing with Asian characters, it also provides much more accurate translations than any of the present competition. It only takes a fraction of a second to get the translation and no internet connection is required. In addition, unlike the Google Translate app, you can also use photos that have already been stored in your smartphone’s photo gallery — they don’t have to be new photos.

The free version of the app allows you to carry out 10 translations per day, while the unlimited version will set you back $6,99 per language. For a short trip, travelers can also buy a week-long translation package for $1,99, which allows them to use the tool for 7 days without any restrictions. Waygo is available for iOS and Android.

Advantages Disadvantages
Easy-to-use camera function Supports only three languages
Possible to save translations Has no search function
  Can’t read handwriting

Microsoft Translator: hot on Google’s heels

Microsoft has already tried to compete against Google’s translation tool but only Microsoft Translator has come close to being considered real competition for Google’s popular tool. Even though Microsoft Translator is rather trim and doesn’t offer many possibilities for fine-tuning, it does have several impressive features.

Overall, the interface of Microsoft’s translation app is very minimal. However, the animations that appear when you open the speech or keyboard translation pages are impressive. The translator focuses on the most important features — unlike the relatively complex user interface in Google Translate.

Microsoft’s translator app supports 50 languages via text input. Direct language input is possible with significantly fewer languages available. This is where Google has the lead. In principle, however, the two programs are very similar in how they function: both offer language and text translations and keep an exact list of recent translations.

Microsoft Translator can also provide a live translation function. Although the feature is often less than perfect, it is a plus in Microsoft Translator’s favor. However, the fact that unidirectional translation is not supported means that the languages have to be changed manually in the drop-down menu instead of simply pressing the corresponding button. When entering texts, the user must decide whether to use Cyrillic or Latin characters since a mixture of both isn’t supported.

For short sentences, Microsoft Translator often provides more useful results than competing products. For example, Google tends to translate word-for-word, whereas Microsoft Translator is sometimes able to translate short sentences idiomatically. For longer sentences with complicated expressions, Microsoft’s voice recognition isn’t the best but it is at least very accurate with shorter sentences.

A special feature of this app is the support for Android Wear and the Apple Watch. You can select the input language and output on your smartwatch, save the result, and view your last translations from your wrist. This can be immensely helpful when you are on the road and want to translate a short sentence while on the go.

The Microsoft Translator app is free for Android and iOS.

Advantages Disadvantages
Easy-to-use, modern menu Less accuracy when translating more complex sentences
Idiomatic translation for short sentences Language packages aren’t very extensive
Smartwatch support No unidirectional translation possible

PONS Online Translator: the translation app for those interested in linguistics

The PONS company offers a digital version of their popular dictionary for Android and iOS in addition to its physical versions. The PONS translator app is a comprehensive electronic dictionary with many practical features that are especially helpful for linguistically curious users.

The PONS Online Translator is quite slim at 2.5 MB. However, the app searches for words in the PONS database and therefore needs an internet connection.

The app’s structure is user-friendly and clear. By clicking on the corresponding tabs at the top, you can easily access all of the app’s features. A search function, text translation, favorites list, and setting options are available. You can save frequently used terms or phrases under 'Favorites' as well as listen to translations again and again and even view saved expressions offline. The terms are organized by language, not chronologically. The app offers a speech recognition feature so you can speak into the microphone instead of typing the words or sentences.

If you’re interested in the development of language and origin of certain terms, you will no doubt be thankful for the additional information provided by the PONS app. Other apps deliver literal or idiomatic translations, meaning you don’t learn about the etymological background of a word or expression. Naturally, many words have several meanings depending on the context, so you can only work out the right one if you have additional information on the individual words. The PONS app often provides more detailed information about the individual terms and helps to avoid typical mistakes in foreign languages.

The results are displayed in a similar way to the physical PONS dictionary. Other dictionary apps often only display pure translations, whereas the PONS translation app also displays expressions relating to the word you’ve translated as well as basic grammatical information. This gives a good overview of how/when a word or phrase is used. Just click to hear the audio playback of the word or sentence to assist with the pronunciation.

Advantages Disadvantages
Simple navigation Not available offline
Detailed information about translations Complex sentence constructions are not always accurate
Speech recognition feature and voice output  

SayHi Translate: the transportable interpreter

The developers of the translation app, SayHi Translate promise no less than an interpreter in pocket format. The slim, yet powerful iOS app aims to be as good as a human translator. The app has been optimized for iPhones and iPads and can translate over 80 languages and dialects. The software used comes from Nuance developers. Most of the languages offered can also be reproduced with direct voice output.

The well-designed user interface gives SayHi Translate a modern look. At the top of the screen, you will find icons for choosing the language, the help function, as well as a way to select a phrase from the current conversation, the volume control, and other options. At the bottom, two large buttons are displayed in the two languages that have been currently selected for unidirectional translation.

In the practice test, the app proved to be user-friendly. Theoretically, the program can be used for a running dialog as with a real person. As soon as you start the translation, a large red button indicates that you can begin the conversation. The app automatically adjusts itself to the language that it registers. You must set the secondary language manually and then the translation will be carried out in the desired language through voice output. However, the voice sounds very robotic and could be improved.

SayHi Translate works quite accurately but it isn’t perfect. As with almost every speech recognition software, it could happen that the app misinterprets what is being said and translates it incorrectly. This is especially likely if the pronunciation is unclear. Since the conversation is also visible on the monitor, you can quickly detect any errors, although sometimes you have to repeat what you just said. In addition, permanent access to the server is required. The app takes up very little memory but does require a constant internet connection.

SayHi Translate is free for iOS.

Advantages Disadvantages
Wide range of languages Not available offline
Accurate speech recognition and voice output, in comparison with other providers Voice output sounds unnatural
Easy operation Only available for iOS.

TripLingo: the all-inclusive translation app for travelers

The app TripLingo is designed for globetrotters and business travelers. If you’re traveling internationally, whether it be regularly or only occasionally, this tool will come in useful. In contrast to most other translation tools, TripLingo offers especially useful features for business trips. The travel management features save travel costs for the company and/or the travelers.

Local phrases and translation

TripLingo offers you 2,000 common phrases per language. These phrases are subdivided into four categories: formal, casual, slang, and cheeky. You can hear the phrases at normal speaking pace or slow them down in order to master the pronunciation. Phonetic symbols and further explanations are given for all translations.

The voice-to-voice translation feature is particularly useful. Users have unlimited access to unidirectional translations in 19 languages. The app is very easy to use: speak into your device’s microphone and the desired foreign language will come back out.

The app has an additional feature: translation by a human. When the correct wording is imperative, for example, a police statement or a court case, human interpreters are vital. TripLingo puts you in contact with a human interpreter in 30 seconds when you push a button. Translators are available in 180 languages.

Learning tools

The Audio lesson feature enables you to learn the language you desire by listening to phrases in 10 different categories. The intelligent flashcards are handy for users of different language level and the quiz mode helps you to test your newly acquired knowledge in a fun way.

Support for culture and travel

TripLingo offers a 'Culture Crash Course,' a feature for learning local etiquette and country-specific customs in eight different categories. These include business, negotiations, and punctuality. The app has an integrated calculator for working out the local currency as well as for calculating how much of a tip to leave. There’s also a practical automatic feature for telephoning using WiFi, which means you can avoid costly roaming charges when you call home (as long as you have a WiFi or data connection). You can store important phone numbers and passwords in a separate security area of the app.

From this, you can see that TripLingo is definitely a very modern, practical program. But that’s not all. The translation app also enables you to find out information on allergies, local emergency telephone numbers, country-specific foods or ways of eating, and other local customs. The latter can be particularly helpful when organizing business lunches, meaning that the tool is well suited to companies.

Roaming charges can cause a lot of hassle when abroad but thanks to the WiFi dialer from TripLingo, you can save up to $108 per trip, according to the developers.

If your whole company uses TripLingo, it makes sense to get an Enterprise account. This is a tailor-made app with certain bonuses. The company’s logo will be in the menu, company-specific branding will be created, and internal travel rules and emergency numbers will be pre-installed. The app can also be integrated into iSOS, iJet, and other security programs that your company uses. TripLingo also provides training and advisory materials as well as monthly usage and analysis reports.

Business Insider recognized TripLingo as 'one of the 11 pioneering inventions of the year,' and the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) awarded the app with the 'Business Travel Innovation Award'.

TripLingo is free for iOS and Android.

Advantages Disadvantages
App with immense functionality for travelers Dictionary isn’t very extensive
Transfer to human translators is possible Playful concept isn’t for everyone
Playful learning and many features for business as well as everyday life  

Conclusion

It’s not that easy to find the right translation app with the huge selection available. If you have more of an idea of what you require, you can narrow down the options. The TripLingo or Waygo apps are recommended to users who often travel in foreign-speaking countries since they are specifically designed for the needs of travelers. They are also able to play the language aloud, which comes in handy when communicating abroad. One of the highlights is that you can be put through to a human translator via TripLingo.

If you place a lot of importance on speech recognition and output, you should consider SayHi Translate or iTranslate Voice. Neither of these apps can replace a human translator but they come as close as possible. The PONS app is highly recommended for English translations as it contains the most vocabulary.

Smartwatch owners should look into Microsoft Translator since this app knows how to use modern hardware. If you are looking for a good all-rounder, then Google Translate is the right choice for you. It supports many languages, making it particularly versatile and ideally suited for your everyday needs.

Here are all the previously mentioned translator apps in table form:

  Number of languages Offline mode Voice recognition Free iOS Android Unidirectional translation
Google Translate 103 yes yes yes yes yes yes
iTranslate 90 yes yes yes yes yes yes
iTranslate Voice 42 yes yes Android: yes; iOS: no yes yes yes
Waygo 3 yes yes no yes yes yes
Microsoft Translator 50 yes yes yes yes yes yes
PONS 36 no yes yes yes yes yes
SayHi Translate 80 no yes no yes no yes
TripLingo 19 yes yes yes yes yes yes

Tools Apps Google Encyclopedia