More than 500 million people around the globe use Google Translate, and the search giant says that the service makes up to 1 billion translations daily. Do you want to be among the few who paid for their service, or among the hordes of millions who use free translation apps?
Me, I wouldn’t waste a dollar on paid translation apps, no matter what they claim or how fancy they look on my phone. Here’s my frugal 2 cents as to why I’d rather plan my vacation spending time learning a new language, than waste a dollar or more purchasing an app for my phone on an impulse buy. Why? Well, because you can get the best for free.
Free is Goed
“Goed” is good in Dutch. I used Google Translate for that. It took me about, oh a little over 5 seconds. I used the browser version too. The reason I’m citing this example is you’re going to end up using the translation app for simple words only. Services like Google Translate do simple translations really well, but when you throw a complicated phrase their way or key in any colloquialisms, they self destruct like the computers they are. They’ll give you some words right, but in totality the whole phrase will mean gibberish. It’s quite funny, actually. I spent like 30 minutes on it translating Spanish to English and the results were amusing.
There are about 6,500 spoken languages in the world. 4,500 of which are common enough that a large number of people speak it. That’s a lot of linguistic programming and it would take decades for computers to understand what the heck humans are really talking about. They have an idea, based on the spoken words used, and compare these against their vast database, but for now, it’s always going to lack something.
The underlying reason for this lies in the algorithms these computers use. The engineers and programmers at Google and Microsoft are doing their very best to give us translation programs that can understand our language, but we’re probably years away from Star Trek. It’s just not in the cards for us to feel like we’re members of the USS Enterprise, holding a gadget that translates Klingon on the go.
So, if you’re planning to translate a whole document, especially a legal document or a school paper, you’re better off looking into certified translation services, rather than using something that’s free.
But Wait. There’s Mucho…
Holding a gadget that translates Klingon? On the go? Well, the technology is here, but barely. Apps like Google Translate (Android, iOS) and Microsoft Translator (Windows Phone) are two of the top free translation apps that you can point at any sign or menu and using your phones’ multi-gazillion mega pixel camera, presumably get the meaning. It works, up to a point. It still jumbled some of the tricky menus in Chinese, but it’s awfully useful in a pinch. Pretty handy when asking where the loo is in Russian, too.
Google just unveiled voice recognition in Google Translate. Just speak to the microphone and hear your words translated to the target language. For now though, it’s only limited to six languages: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Russian and German. Google promises more languages in the future. Microsoft Translator has had the voice option for years; I don’t know what took Google so long.
How about the others? Well, you can also try Jibbigo, iTranslate and World Lens (Android, iOS). They have free and paid versions, but freeware is freeware, so don’t expect too much. I’d rather play with the established ones from Google and folks at Redmond.
When it comes to a foreign language, well let’s say I wouldn’t entrust my whole trip on an app installed on my phone. Learning a language on your own is still the best way to get around in a foreign country. There is a multitude of ways to learn. You can take a crash course on basic Spanish for example, or even an online course on French and do everything remote. You can hire a tutor or ask a friend or relative to teach you the basics. Plus, there’s also those pocket guide books with maps and locations of the best bars. These mini books usually have some of the most common questions any tourist would ask, so feel free to get one. Borrow one or buy one, at least you’ll never run out of juice while exploring.
So, if you’re thinking about buying a translation app for your next trip, please don’t waste your money. The free options from Google and Microsoft are more than enough if you really want to use one.