During the summer of 2015, 16% of French people went on vacation abroad, according to a CSA poll for the free daily newspaper Direct Matin.
The majority stayed in Europe (10%), while others were more adventurous (2% traveled to North America, Africa and Asia, 1% to Oceania and South America), and all thought hard about potential language barriers before settling on their destination. Or got out their smartphone. As each country has its own scenery, history, culture and language to offer. But the French think back to “Where is Brian?”, the famous English language learning technique of the 1980s, as it can be difficult to ask for directions, read a restaurant menu or hold a conversation. That’s where translation apps come in: becoming ever more comprehensive and sophisticated, they work offline and translate from keyboard, voice or camera input.
It’s already inescapable on the internet with its 90 languages, and Google Translate is equally powerful on smartphones, especially since its latest update in early 2015. Following the acquisition and integration of the Word Lens app, you just need to point the camera at a sign or text to receive an instant translation (currently available in French, English, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish). Conversation is made simpler with further developments in automatic speech recognition and real-time text translation. Only this feature requires an internet connection.
Simple but comprehensive, iTranslate offers everything you might expect of a mobile translation app: more than 90 available languages, different translation choices depending on the word, phrase or context, the opportunity to listen to the translation (want it in the local accent? Es posible!), speech recognition in the premium version (€4.99) and the romanization of certain languages (Chinese, Hindi, Greek, Russian, etc.) to aid pronunciation. Compatible with the Apfel Beobachten… sorry, the Apple Watch.
The most popular bilingual dictionary on the web, and among the 500 most visited sites in the world, WordReference’s language pairs also work on smartphones (English-French, French-Spanish, English-Arabic, etc.), and its other features include verb conjugators and a forum where 3 million questions about translation, spelling and grammar have already been answered. However, the app does require internet access.
The new kid on the block, Linqapp presents itself as an alternative to machine translators. The idea is that you can ask any question (translation, proofreading, grammar) in any way (text, photo, audio) and receive a response from a native speaker, i.e., a person with the language as their mother tongue. It takes 1-3 minutes to get the results. The app does need to be connected, and acts as a learning tool and social network. It currently has 55,000 users for 85 languages.
The Windows Phone version of Bing Translator benefits from the very latest innovations, with translation/pronunciation in more than 35 languages, a camera mode (point the camera at the text and the translation appears in augmented reality), a speech function (speak into the phone and it translates into the desired language), and of course offline support thanks to downloadable language packs.
Taking its name from the famous Tower of Babel, the Babelshot app offers to break down language barriers and translate any printed text. Simply take a picture of a restaurant menu, a user guide or a newspaper, select the text to be translated (even Japanese, Korean or Russian), and a few seconds later, it appears in the language of your choice. ハレルヤ！Hallelujah!
Although visual recognition is the latest trendy feature of translation apps, it is often limited to Latin languages. That’s where Waygo takes over: the app is fully committed to instant translation, without the need for an internet connection, from Chinese (simplified, traditional), Japanese (kanji) and Korean… to English. Other languages will be added soon.
Still in its beta version, Skype Translator provides a taste of the future with its conversations translated in real time. Do you need to confirm a hotel booking in Italy, but you don’t speak Italian and your contact doesn’t speak your language? It just takes one Skype call and you can have a discussion as normal: each sentence is translated, spoken with a robotic voice and transcribed on the screen. The app supports six spoken languages (German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Mandarin), and more than 50 written languages if there is a need to make corrections or clarifications via instant messaging.