Best Language and Translation Apps for the iPad

by Reads (79,187)

SurvivalPhrases VocabularySurvivalPhrases – Japanese
($19.99, iPhone)

The name of the SurvivalPhrases app is somewhat misleading — it does teach you a great many survival phrases in Japanese, but it is more comprehensive than that. The Japanese version of the app includes 59 sections organized into seven main categories, with everything from basic greetings and apologies to help riding the rails and “how do I eat that”? Each audio lesson is roughly five minutes long, with extremely detailed phonetic pronunciations in addition to cultural information. Each section also contains “quick tips” lessons with more advanced information, as well as a flashcard section with individual pronunciations.

The price is somewhat expensive, but if you need something more than a dictionary or phrasebook and less than a full language course, this is the app for you. It doesn’t attempt to be a comprehensive foreign language course; rather it gives you a firm traveling foundation, more than enough to just “get by” in a language you don’t know. SurvivalPhrases is available in 18 different languages, and you can get PDF transcripts of the lessons in each app from the SurvivalPhrases.com web site.

Translator 50 – More than a Dictionary
(Free ad-supported version or $1.99 premium version, universal app for iPhone and iPad)

The Translator 50 app is (surprise) an online translator; type in any word or phrase and choose the language (from a selection of fifty) and the app will then perform the translation, which is powered by Google. It’s fast and accurate, though errors are possible since the app is relying on Google for translation data. The built-in email feature is quite nice; it’s possible to type out a short message, have the app translate it for you, and then send it out via email. The app also features a built-in web browser; you can type in any address and have the page translated into any of the available languages. This feature also works well, though of course it isn’t perfect — the articles and content on this site are translated, but not the article titles or any of the advertising.

This app is basic, but it gets the job done. If you need the flexibility of being able to move between a variety of languages quickly, without having to choose one, this app is worthy of your consideration. The ads in the free version take up roughly a third of the screen, though it is possible to see translated web pages in full screen view.

Trippo Voice Translator Plus
(Free, but in-app license purchase required, iPhone)

The Trippo app is a speaking translator, so it’s very simple — just choose the language you want to translate to, tap the microphone icon, and say what you want to be translated. After about 5 seconds, you will see what the app thinks you said, you will see the translated text at the bottom of the screen, and you will also hear the translated word or phrase. I tested the app extensively with Spanish and on a much more basic level in French and Japanese, and found the translations to be generally correct. Trippo is powered by Nuance, with the same technology as the excellent Dragon Dictation app.

Trippo is free, but a license is required in order to access the advanced functionality. A 99 cent in-app purchase will net you speech recognition, and you can then pay either 99 cents a month or $9.99 for a permanent license for the spoken translations. An internet connection is also required for every translation, making this app of limited use for international travel unless you know that you will have access to either Wi-Fi or a low cost prepaid SIM for your iPhone.

WordPower – Japanese
($9.99, iPhone)

If you already know a foreign language, but need help perfecting your pronunciation and improving your vocabulary, WordPower can help. The app, which is available for an extensive array of languages from Arabic to Farsi, Romanian to Serbian. The app includes 2000 of the most frequently used words, divided into helpful categories. Each word is presented in flashcard format, with the original language, phonetic spelling, and English translation. At the bottom of the screen, the controls enable you to play back a recording of the word spoken by a native, so that you can hear the correct pronunciation. You can then record your own voice pronouncing the word and then play it back to check yourself. You can save individual words to your word bank for further review, and quizzes are included so that you can test your mastery of each category of words.

There are also free and/or low cost WordPower Lite applications that allow users to learn one new word each day. Of course you’ll never know what you’re going to get, but it includes the same pronunciation and recording features of the full app. WordPower is available for a wide variety of languages for $9.99 each; some of the WordPower Lite versions are free and others are 99 cents, depending on the language.

WorldNomads Spanish PlusWorld Nomads Spanish Plus
($1.99, iPhone)

Like the “For Dummies” app, the World Nomads app is a basic talking phrase book. It is arranged into categories such as Basics, Introductions, Directions, Transport, Places to Stay, Travel Safety, Travel Health, Food & Eating, Numbers, Times & Dates, At the Bar, Flirting, Shopping, and Working Holiday. You scroll up and down to find what you’re looking for as there is no search feature. Once you find the right phrase for your situation, a single tap on the phrase starts the speech feature, with a very clear and easy to understand male voice. Some of the entries are rather humorous, such as “I am a well-known food critic in my country” in the Dining & Food section, as well as “I’m a rock star” and “Easy, Tiger!” in the Flirting section. The app also includes a ten-minute introductory Spanish audio lesson that covers all of the basics in a conversational setting such as greetings, time, and transport, as well as a bit of Spanish culture regarding tapas and polite forms of address. It’s entertaining and useful, and should help even absolute beginners learn enough Spanish to be polite and get by, especially when used with the talking phrase book.

There are a few errors, such as the English phrase being listed where the Spanish should be, but I didn’t find any actual translation errors in the app. The World Nomads app is designed for the iPhone, but also works perfectly on the iPad. World Nomads is available in both free and Plus (more phrases, plus an audio lesson) editions in a variety of languages, including Arabic, Cambodian, Croatian, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, Nepali, Portuguese, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish, and Vietnamese.



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  1. dellsworth

    Quite an interesting article. I don’t know how much it can help with my first graders but I can see many uses with my genealogy hobby.