Going on a trip abroad soon?
Whether you're on the road for business or pleasure, you'll need to talk to someone who doesn't speak your language, sooner or later.
And while it's helpful to know a bit of the local tongue before you jet off across an ocean, it's not always feasible (or necessary) to learn everything.
That's where tech comes in handy—now, it's easier than ever to bridge the language gap with all the best-in-class translation apps in the market. And in this 8-minute read, we're going to cover what to look for in the best translation apps, and then provide some options for travelers in every situation.
Ready? Let's go.
What features should I look for in the best translation apps?
If you want the best communications experience during your travel, you need to pick from the best translation apps. But what do you look for? What makes them "the best"?
Here's a set of features we looked for, and you should too to scope the best options for you:
- Accurate translations: the last thing you want is to sound awkward and embarrass yourself because you said the wrong thing, looking at your "reliable" translation app in horror. Most apps have a good accuracy rate, but some translation apps are more proficient than others for specific languages, as you'll see in this list.
- Offline capabilities for no-internet scenarios: if you're traveling abroad, there's a good chance your cellular provider isn't coming with you. And your new local provider may not always be reliable if there's a data connection required. So, having access to essential phrases and many languages offline can save you from being stranded when you need to talk to someone who doesn't speak the same language.
- Male and female voice translations: you want to be represented accurately when pronouncing words and useful phrases. A gender-congruent voice translation makes conversations with foreigners as realistic as possible and provides better pronunciation help.
- Camera Translation: it can get tedious, frustrating, and inefficient trying to type everything in your vicinity when trying to understand the foreign language around you—especially if it's a language with complex characters like Chinese hanzi. Using your phone's camera for image recognition and scanning text makes things way faster for everyone.
- Language auto-detection: the best translation apps can auto-detect languages with real-time translation. Sometimes, you may not know what language is in front of you, but with this translation feature, that is not a barrier anymore.
We've listed the best translation apps keeping many of these features in mind, so you can always get your message across accurately no matter which top translation app you choose.
Enough preamble. Let's get into the best translation apps.
By the time you finish reading this list, you'll have a better idea of which best-in-class translation app is best for your needs.
1. Google Translate
The overall best of the translation apps for travelers, by far, is Google Translate—and it's free.
It can translate text or speech to more than 100 different languages with a few clicks—all you have to do is select the source and destination language, enter your phrase in the appropriate fields, or press the microphone or camera icon for voice translation.
Even if you're traveling to the most outskirt places, chances are Google Translate has got you covered. It can understand most written common languages like Cyrillic and Arabic, though it doesn't well support Asian logographic systems like Chinese or Japanese Kanji.
After acquiring Word Lens in 2014, Google Translate also featured instant camera translation, allowing users to simply scan information with their phone's camera and automatically translate it to the desired language.
It's worth noting that this renowned app is more proficient in some languages than others. In a 2019 study, Google Translate showed over 90% accuracy for Spanish, but 67% and 55% for Farsi and Armenian respectively.
Google Translate is best for:
- Most global coverage with 100+ languages
- Automatic language detection by text, voice, and character recognition
- Taking pictures of foreign text and auto-translating
iTranslate translator is one of the best translation apps out there, and it's perfect for travelers—it has support for more than 90 languages (including rare ones like Warlpiri and Zulu), plus handy phrasebooks for key locations, events, and activities.
It can also auto-detect your location (if you grant it access to location data), and it supports offline translation in over 33 languages. So you can translate from practically anywhere, so long as your device has a battery charge.
The catch, though, is you have to upgrade to the Pro version for $4.99 monthly for special features like offline and in-app website translations which can help you read local-language blogs and other media to learn more about the area.
One of iTranslate's best features is its support for text-to-speech—so you can listen to your phrase being spoken aloud, no matter which language you're trying to learn. It's also been reviewed to be easier to use during an extended conversation than Google Translate.
iTranslate is best for:
- Offline translations
- Reading local-language media
- Text-to-voice demonstrations in many male/female voice options
3. Microsoft Translator
Microsoft's best translation app is best known for its voice recognition, but it also packs clear text and image translations into the mix—and supports over 70 languages.
That said, it's fast, easy to use, and like iTranslate, you can even download languages for offline translation (just keep in mind that downloading 30+MB full language packs can take a while over slow data connections).
The Microsoft Translator also has great integration capabilities with apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, TripAdvisor, and more if you need it. If you're texting someone, you can look up alternate translations and meanings of a word to find the best translation to express yourself with their app.
The neatest feature, though, is that it offers multi-person conversation translation—meaning you can connect your devices and have in-person conversations with up to 100 people across multiple languages. This can be a godsend if you're talking to a group of people abroad or participating in a cultural event or activity when traveling.
Microsoft Translator is best for:
- In-app text translations with other apps
- Multi-person speech recognitions
- Looking up alternate translations to better express yourself
Waygo is an award-winning app best suited for those traveling to Asian countries. The industry staples like Google/Microsoft Translate or iTranslate are good, but they're not as refined for travelers who need to read languages like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean in their day-to-day.
It supports simplified and traditional characters, so it's best to look up translations of signs or restaurant menus in Asian countries, which can be an absolute nightmare.
It has a neat feature where you can take pictures of text, symbols, or signs (like at a restaurant), from which it can convert the image to characters.
It also doesn't require an internet connection, uses minimal disk space, and is open for both iOS and Android devices.
Waygo is best for:
- Unparalleled translation accuracy for complex Asian dialects
- Reading signs, menus, and other text in Asian languages
- Taking pictures of word-based foreign text and translating them into your language automatically
If you're traveling to a foreign country, TripLingo teaches you how to speak their language—in every way possible.
That's because it isn't just a translation app; it’s a complete cheat sheet guide on how best to stay safe while traveling abroad. You get everything from language lessons (including slang phrases you should know) to cultural tips of taboos and best practices when traveling in other countries.
They also have a paid pro version that includes custom courses that you can use to best learn words and phrases for your next international trip, whether it's the best way to ask for directions in Tailandia or how to explain best that you're on a low-carb diet while eating out.
The app includes full content in 13 languages, with support for 19 languages using the instant voice translator and access to a live translator in over 180 languages.
TripLingo is best for:
- Learning best practices when traveling in foreign countries
- Having best-practice cheat sheets for any situation abroad
- Custom lesson plans to best learn common words and phrases in a specific country
SayHi can translate your voice in over 90 languages. Think of it as your personal set of vocal cords in any language you want. The app lets you record your voice in your language and audibly translates that input into the local language, enabling voice-to-voice conversations.
You can play your voice translations in a male or female voice and even adjust to your preferred speed. Of course, if there's a noisy environment, you still have the option to type your phrase in.
It best serves those traveling to countries where you don't know the language and prefer talking to typing. Everything is recorded, and your translation history is laid out like a texting interface so that you can keep track of your conversation.
However, the catch is that SayHi is only available with internet or at least a 3G data connection. So, if you don't have a stable connection, you could expect some buffers mid-conversation as you wait to translate text.
Nevertheless, SayHi Translator is best for:
- Having human-like recording and playback of your translated voice
- Talking with friends, family, or even business partners abroad without knowing their native language
- Keeping track of conversations, unlike other apps
So, we said earlier that learning an entire language before traveling to another country isn't exactly feasible. And you probably agree.
But for learning a bit of a local tongue to keep at hand for any quick interactions, Papago is a great option that has been reported more accurate than the likes of Google/Microsoft Translate.
This translation app is great for removing the language barrier in Arabic, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese (Mandarin), Cantonese.
It has an impressive library of real-life sentences recorded by native speakers. It best serves those trying to study a new language by reading and listening to native pronunciations, as it has audio playback tools that best help you improve pronunciation and enunciation.
You can use the app offline so you can download languages and data beforehand before going on your trip—no need for an internet connection.
Papago is best for:
- Learning best pronunciation and enunciation in a foreign language
- Having a library of best-practice sentences to read and listen to
- Downloading languages and data before traveling abroad without internet
So, there you have it—the best translation apps for travel to batter out any language barriers during your trip.
They best serve different purposes, but all will help you out when trying to best understand or communicate in a foreign country. And while we said that learning a new language isn't feasible before traveling internationally, this is a great way to catch up on any lost skills before hopping on a plane.
Enjoy your trip!