My Favorite Language Apps for Travel

By Erin Rauch-Sasseen

Greeting new sights, savoring new tastes, and taking in new sounds are what make travel so exciting, so necessary. Along with excitement, traveling to new places can also bring a certain level of discomfort.  For many of us, this source of apprehension comes from not knowing the local language of our destination. Fortunately, we have technology to ameliorate some of the frustrations that come hand in hand with language barriers.  All you need is an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or Android, and a language app of your choice and you are all set.

Before embarking on your journey there are a few things to consider when downloading language tools.  First, it is important to decide whether you want to immerse yourself in the foreign language with the hope of reaching some level of comfort before the trip or if you simply want an app that will aid you during your journey.  In other words, do you want a study guide or a translator?   The study guide app is designed for the ambitious traveler who wants to familiarize him or herself with the language before a trip.  The translator app is designed for on-the-spot assistance.  Of course, it is always helpful to have both!


World Nomads Language Guides

The WorldNomads Language Guides are ideal for pre-trip study.  These free apps come in 22 different languages (each language is its own app), including Russian, Arabic, Spanish, French, and Thai.  Each language contains 11 categories.  These include Basics, Introductions, Directions, Transport, Places to stay, Travel safety, Travel health, Food & Eating, Numbers, Times & Dates, and Flirting.  Each category contains frequently used words and phrases in English and the foreign language of choice.  Unlike some of the other apps, World Nomad has an audio component.  When you click on a word or phrase, a native speaker gives an accurate pronunciation.  After reviewing the vocabulary and phrases, you may want to listen to the Language Lesson, a dialogue between a native speaker and a traveler.  Be prepared to giggle as the exchanges are quite humorous.


AccelaStudy Spanish Essentials

For the traveler looking for a more extensive tutorial, I suggest downloading the AccelaStudy Essentials app.  This free app comes with flashcards, quizzes, and a large word list.  You can personalize your experience by creating study sets out of the vocabulary.  The full version is available for $9.99.   If you want an app with commonly used phrases in a variety of categories such as Money, Lodging, Medical, and Eating Out, try Babelingo. It is lacking in the phonetic pronunciation and audio departments, especially for the non-western languages, but can be useful. It is currently “on sale” for $1.99, iPhones only.  For Android users, try iTranslate.




Google Translate

If you are anything like me, you probably have all these great plans to spend twenty minutes a day learning a new language weeks before your departure date.  And then the day of your trip arrives and you never even skimmed your old notes from that Portuguese class you took as an elective your senior year of college. Thankfully, the collective brain that is Google has designed an impressive translator called, quite aptly, Google Translate.  Unlike the Free Translation app, Google Translate has covered all of the bases.  Not only can you translate between 57 languages, but you can do so by speaking the word or phrase you need to translate.  This will come in handy when you don’t have the time to type.  One downside is that you do need a wireless connection.  However, the app will save your previous translations which you can access without an internet connection.  Another distinction between Google Translate and Free Translation is the ease with which you can switch between languages.  This makes it easy for both parties to communicate.  It will also come in handy if you need to translate directions or a menu.   Google Translate is also available on Androids.


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