How to use translation apps while traveling

How to use translation apps while traveling

How to use translation apps while traveling

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It’s a problem as old as the Tower of Babel: how do you communicate with others if you don’t speak their language? Anna-Marie Cartagena found herself in this situation during a recent visit to a spice market in Israel. The employee did not speak English and Cartagena did not speak Hebrew. She didn’t have direct access to an internet-connected phone.

Cartagena’s solution is not new, but it is often overlooked. As a sign language interpreter by profession, she decided to communicate non-verbally. “I gestured and clucked like a chicken,” she says—a request for spices used to cook chicken. Then she bragged for pork. “He then made spice blends for all the items and drew a picture of a chicken, fish, pig, carrot and a cow on each bag,” she recalls.

“Communication has to happen — and it will.”

Fortunately, there are easier ways to get your message across. There are several translation apps and services that can help travelers overcome language barriers.

translation apps. Google Translate, the most widely used translation app, automatically translates sentences into dozens of languages. “Google Translate can be a great resource if you don’t speak the language of your destination and need to convey urgent information, such as ordering at a restaurant,” said Carolina Sánchez-Hervás, founder of CSH Translation, a translation service provider. But she recommends using it with caution: the app may not pick up on nuances like gender similarity, jokes, or metaphors. Google also offers an interpreter mode that allows you to speak into your device to get a near real-time translation. But for most users it relies on a fast internet connection so if you are offline it may not work.

Carla Bevins, who teaches business communications at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, also loves Microsoft Translator, a free app that enables translations into more than 100 languages ​​and allows up to 100 participants. The iTranslate app can also offer more flexibility. “It supports gesture-based controls and can translate Chinese characters,” she says. But Bevins warns against over-reliance on translation apps. There is no substitute for learning a few key phrases and communicating in person. “Be prepared to talk to others,” she advises. “If you practice speaking, you’ll get better at it and make great memories.”

Live interpreters. Several apps can connect you with a live interpreter. Alan Campbell, a former Foreign Service employee who teaches Spanish translation, likes Jeenie (iOS or Android), an app that charges $1 per minute for real-time translations. “It’s a great app with a respectable mission to support language accessibility and equality in contexts other than travel,” he says. The app works through your camera, so your interpreter can also see the body language cues of the person you’re talking to, providing greater accuracy. Other apps, such as Stepes, charge by word, but may offer more language options. Day Translations can translate, help with pronunciation and, if necessary, put you through to an interpreter.

translation cards. For situations where an accurate translation is a must – for example, when describing a medical condition or food allergy – some travelers buy maps or prints to take with them on vacation. Companies like Equal Eats sell cards describing conditions like celiac disease and nut allergies ($7.99 for an instant download or $16.99 for a plastic card) in several languages. Translation software is “not accurate enough to transfer life-threatening allergy information abroad,” said Kyle Dine, CEO of Equal Eats. The company uses professional translators, proofreaders and native speakers to ensure the most accurate translation. The information is also available as an app.

travel insurance. If you have travel insurance, you may be able to use translation services. For example, the Allianz Travel Insurance helpline offers real-time services to its customers in several major languages, including French, German and Italian. “Travellers who call ahead can request our assistance with arrangements in the language of their destination—everything from making hotel, restaurant, or sightseeing tour reservations to getting important information needed during their trip,” said LaShanta Sullivan, manager of the travel assistance department of Allianz. If you have a Medjet membership, which offers medical evacuations, you can also use the benefits of medical translation to distill foreign medical reports and translate them into English.

The best way to communicate is of course to learn the language. While you may not have the time to master it, knowing even just a few words and phrases can be helpful. There are plenty of apps that can help you learn another language. “Even a small effort goes a long way and is not only appreciated by locals, but also gives you a deeper connection to the country away from your smartphone,” said Franziska Wirth, a sales manager for travel guide publishing company Rough Guides.

But there is not always time for that. On a recent visit to Turkey, I barely passed by hello (“merhaba”). One night I was in a taxi with a driver who spoke no English. I searched my phone for Google Translate and ended up typing what I wanted to say. Then I pressed the button to play it out loud. Nothing happened. So I pressed it again. The Turkish translation is displayed slowly, which happens when you press the button twice, and everyone laughed.

In the end, methods like Cartagena’s may still be the most effective. Kelley Price, a hiring manager from Kirkland, Washington, recently used it when she visited a town just outside Izmir, on Turkey’s Aegean coast. She stopped at a restaurant where no one spoke English and the menus were completely in Turkish.

“So I made chicken noises,” she says. “I grew up on a farm and can make a pretty realistic chicken. And we got chicken for dinner.”

Potential travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines related to the pandemic before planning any travel. Information about health declarations for travel can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map with travel recommendations by destination and on the CDC’s health declarations webpage.