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apps
exact science
english speakers
google
translation services
heavy lifting
smartphone
translators
New Apps: Translation
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Smartphones do so much it’s sometimes hard to remember that you can use them to simply have a conversation with another person. In addition to schedule and organizing apps that help you plan your vacation or business trip, some new apps offer translation services.

Google’s new app lets you speak into the phone—speak slowly and clearly, please—and the app will do the heavy lifting. The words you’ve spoken will be displayed in multiple languages. Audio pronunciations are also available in 23 languages. One great thing about Google’s app is that it is free.

There are other apps out there, such as Coolgorilla Talking Phrasebook and the Lonely Planet Phrasebook. While these offer a wide range of travel phrases and are easy to use, they are what they say they are: phrasebooks. On a higher level, The Oxford Translator Travel Pro is a bit pricey at $10 per language, but it does more than just translate. It operates more like a language tutor, helping you learn how to construct sentences. For someone actually trying to learn the language, this app would be a good investment.

However, don’t think that armed with your smartphone and any of these translation apps you are ready to take on a foreign country where English speakers are few and far between. To begin with, you are limited to the vocabulary in the app. If some key word, like “no” has been left out, you’ll be out of luck on that one. The translation should help you handle normal tourist situations, but you won’t be able to cope with problems or unforeseen situations.

Also, remember that the technology of translation is still somewhat limited, as translation is not an exact science. Stories abound of mechanical translators completely changing the meaning of what was said, and there is little reason to believe that phone apps will be much better. Some apps will show you the translation, and then translate it back into the language you started with. This feature will show you if the device performed the translation properly, and could help you avoid creating an international incident.

It’s best, however, when going to a foreign country to know the basics courtesy words of please and thank you, some greetings, and maybe a few other simple words. Use the phone apps for slightly more complicated things. Get someone like a guide to help you if you’ll be a in a situation requiring more complex communication. But in a pinch, the phone translation apps will be useful for many travelers.


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