Language translator apps

Translator apps for iPhone and Android

Translator app reviews
World Nomads
24/7 tutor (free)
Cool Gorilla (99¢)
Word Roll (99¢)
Odyssey ($9.99)
Lonely Planet ($9.99)
You're on the road in a foreign land and need directions to the train station or the nearest bathroom (and quickly). Perhaps you want to haggle over a hotel room, or make sure the entrée is made from an animal you are accustomed to eating and not something that, in your country, is more often treated as a family pet.

Foreign language dictionaries are bulky, phrase books require frantic paging back and forth to carry on a conversation, and Star Trek–style instant translators are expensive (but now available!).

You want to be able to translate on the fly and in multiple tongues, to look up words quickly and learn how to pronounce them properly from a native speaker.

Well, as Apple commercials are proud to point out, there's an app for that. Many, actually.

How I picked these apps

There are more than 100 translator and language apps out there. I sampled a few dozen of the best and picked two winners in each of three categories: free, so cheap it might as well be free, and costly but fully featured and worth the expense.

Honorable mention
There are a few apps that are technological marvels, but still not ideal for travel. Best example: the stupefyingly cool Word Lens from Quest Visual (Ultralingua, Inc.). You point the phone's camera at any printed phrase and the app translates it, live (while passably matching the colors and font of the original). Jaw-dropping.

Only problems: (a) It only works with printed words; to translate a phrase in your head or that you hear, you'd have to write it down then point the camera at it, and (b) You have to buy each language module separately for $9.99—and English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English are separate modules. (Also, it's currently only available for Spanish and French.)
I had a few criteria. The app had to be fully functional even without Internet access. Many of the free apps (and a disturbing number of the inexpensive ones) are simply interfaces to Google's online translation software—which means your only options for using the app when you really need it (while traveling abroad) would be either to find a WiFi hotspot or incur huge roaming fees.

It also had to be aimed squarely at the necessary words and phrases for travelers. There are plenty of proper language courses out there, but you don't really need to learn complex conjugations just to ask "how much?" or request a table for two—nor do you need to spend $25 on a full-fledged language-to-language dictionary with 250,000 entries (though if you do want to invest, our fave is the Ultralingua line from Collins Pro (Ultralingua, Inc.).

The best language translation apps

These are the foreign language apps I have on my iPhone. This is just the list. For more on the pros and cons of each app, click on "more" after each one:

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in April 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.