How to Communicate Abroad When You Don't Speak the Local Language

by Terry Ward 
Posted Mar 22nd 2013 01:27 PMUpdated Mar 29th 2013 01:38 PM

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translation tools for travelers

Resurrecting some of your high school Spanish, French or German can come in handy when you're traveling -- even a little residual Latin can sometimes help you make sense out of a foreign sign. But while basic expressions like "¿Una cerveza, por favor?" and "Où est la piscine?" may be engrained in your brain, they'll only get you so far when it comes to really communicating abroad. So what to do when you're traveling to a place where the signs all look like Greek (or is that Cyrillic?) to you, and making sense of your surroundings doesn't seem so simple after all?

Start by having your smartphone or tablet in tow, then follow our leads to these handy language translation tools for travelers:

GOOGLE TRANSLATE
Swedish to Swahili, Basque to Bulgarian. You name it, Google can probably translate it. Just copy and paste text into the handy online format of Google Translate's web service or free app and suddenly what seemed like hieroglyphics to your eyes will make sense. Some of the translations will be better than others, but you can usually get a good idea of what's being communicated.

WORD LENS
This cool app lets you point your smartphone's video camera at a word on a sign and watch as it's translated from one language to another. And you don't need a network connection for it to work. The app started with Spanish to English (and vice versa) translations and has expanded to include Italian and French. Cost: $4.99 for each language pack.

JIBBIGO
You can translate typed or spoken input in more than 20 languages (among them Hebrew, Catalan and Mandarin) with this speech-to-speech translation app that's free for the online version (you can upgrade to make it available offline). Multi-language translation packs are available if you're traveling in regions where many tongues are spoken, such as Asia and Europe (the European bundle for English costs $9.99). Press an icon on your phone's screen to record in your native language, then listen as it's played back in another language. Very cool, especially because you can speak into the recorder and then ask the person you're wanting to communicate with to just listen to the app's audio translation. Jibbigo partnered with Lonely Planet Offline Translator, where you'll find similar technology in use.

BING TRANSLATOR
Not in the iPhone club? Not to worry. Bing's handy translator is targeted at Windows Phone 8 phones (and earlier) and lets you point your phone's camera at menus, newspapers or any other text you'd like translated in Spanish, German, French, Italian, English and Chinese. The option to download phrase books lets you continue to translate when you're not connected to the Internet. And there's a voice-activated translation option, too.

ASK FOR HELP
Not everyone travels with an army of apps at the ready. If you don't, try asking an English-speaking local for help (someone working at your hotel, for example) jotting down important phrases you may need when you're out and about. Headed to the pharmacy in Naples to ask for a concoction to cure your cold? Instead of miming all sorts of signals that may or may not properly translate in Italian, just ask the receptionist at your hotel to write down your symptoms, walk up to the pharmacy counter, hand it over with a smile and wait for your request to be filled.

And remember, a smile never needs a translation – so keep things friendly and light-hearted, and you're sure to do just fine navigating the foreign language landscape.

More tips to help you travel better:
How to Find Under the Radar Travel Spots
Group Trips: How to Plan a Smooth Getaway
Flying With Kids: How to Avoid a Cataclysm in Seat 9B
How to Relieve Stress on the Road

Place Translate Is a Location Based Translator

Filed Under: Tips & Tricks

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