Works with WiFi hotspots, personal hotspot, SIM cards, and for-purchase data plans. Ideal for reading foreign signs and menus with photo translation. Operates well in noisy environments thanks to noise-cancelling technology. Large screen and buttons are easy to navigate.
Problematic with certain languages. Needs several attempts to translate certain phrases correctly, though it’s still imperfect.
This model listens and translates both the audio and text in your app, so you can also learn while you’re traveling. Supports languages in over 40 countries and receives high marks for use in Spanish-speaking countries.
Bit of a learning curve with the app, which has some features that could be improved for user experience and overall clarity.
Capable of understanding more than one dialect. Runs on a rechargeable battery that lasts for a full 24 hours of continuous use. Reported ease of use when conversing with another party. Consumers like the size of it, as it fits in a pocket easily.
Limited to six languages, which doesn’t include French or Italian. Needs to be connected to WiFi to work.
Independent unit with 2.4” HD screen that displays translated text and lets you navigate features. Comes with a lanyard for easy access, and it’s light enough to wear around your neck. Has a one-year warranty and guarantee with easy-to-reach customer service.
Requires WiFi to work, which could be problematic if you’re in a dead zone or can’t connect to a network.
Well-place buttons on the side for mother and foreign languages. Has a relatively long working time of 8 hours with a 7-day standby time. Touch screen is easy to operate.
Bigger and heavier than other models. Inconsistent operation, and a few reports of missing items in packaging.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
Traveling and spending time in places that are culturally diverse is exciting and insightful. Another perk of traveling is meeting new people, which means you want to eliminate language barriers as much as possible. If you’re not fluent in the native language or don’t have time to learn it, investing in a language translation device is a smart choice.
These devices can translate between six and 106 languages, so they’re essential for leisure and business travelers. Language translation devices are used most often to translate speech, but if you need assistance reading signs or menus, some models have integrated cameras that read and translate text for your convenience. Basic models pair with an app, and if you’re looking for advanced functionality, premium language translators are standalone devices that operate on WiFi networks.
Step up your communication skills the easy way with a language translation device. Our buying guide includes specs and expert tips on using them, so read on to find out which one is best for your journey.
Language translation devices offer real-time translation between you and speakers of foreign languages. These devices are two-way and are capable of translating native languages into English and vice versa. On average, expect a 0.3-second delay as your device translates speech or text — far faster than using an electronic dictionary or navigating unrefined translation apps.
Depending on the device, you need a WiFi connection, hot spot, SIM card, or data plan for it to work. The majority of language translation devices work over a WiFi connection or hot spot, as they’re the easiest to find in foreign countries. This is true for both standalone as well as app-required models, and it’s recommended to defer to your user manual to confirm the required connection for the device to work, since it may vary between countries and languages.
These devices are capable of translating between six and 106 languages — the more you spend, the more languages you get. There are three language capability groups among models. Basic devices can handle six languages, though they’re not practical if they don’t cover the languages of countries you visit often.
Other devices can handle between 40 and 70 languages, though the range usually includes about 30 languages plus different dialects.
The most capable language translation devices peak at 106 languages, covering just about every language and dialect out there. These devices are more prepared to handle different accents and pronunciation variations as well.
When you’re traveling around a foreign country, you need your language translation device at all times, which is why battery life is an important feature to compare. These devices are equipped with rechargeable batteries and come with their own micro USB cords for charging. If you don’t plan on plugging them into a computer USB to power up, you can purchase a USB power adapter, namely one that is compatible with the outlet and voltage of the country.
Pay attention to both the stand-by and active use times to get a true feel for the length of the battery life. On average, active use times range between eight to 24 hours, and stand-by lasts five to 150 days. Some consumers report their battery life lasts for an average week of travel use before requiring a full charge again.
Standalone: Standalone models are more expensive, simply because they incorporate more technology as all-in-one devices instead of requiring app support on a cell phone. They’re equipped with screens that are easy to navigate with buttons, or they have touchscreen capability. This streamlined option eliminates the need for two devices — the translator and your cell phone with its app — so it’s ideal for minimalist travelers.
App required: App-required translators receive and deliver sound through the device, while the actual translation occurs on your cell phone. These models operate almost like Bluetooth-enabled transmitters. Button capability is limited in these models, as the majority of settings are handled on the app. While it may seem cumbersome to use two devices for translation, some consumers prefer app-required models, since there are frequent updates available to optimize functionality and add new languages or features.
If you need help reading street signs or menus, spend a little more for a model with photo translation capabilities. These translators are equipped with high-definition cameras and software that read foreign text and display it in English. While incredibly cutting-edge, this function is still somewhat limited on translators. For the most part, photo translation only covers half of the languages the device can translate from speech. On the upside, manufacturers are selective when designing this function, so the most popular foreign languages are the ones covered with photo translation.
Premium language translation devices tout noise-cancelling technology. These specialized filters isolate the closest audible speech to deliver an accurate translation. This is an essential feature if you plan on spending time in noisy atmospheres abroad such as busy city streets, train stations, and airports.
Language translation devices cost between $80 and $360. Price depends on how many languages they can handle and their number of integrated translation features.
Inexpensive: Budget-friendly translators cost between $80 and $150. Half of them are standalone devices with screens, whereas the rest require pairing with an app. Devices in this range handle less than 10 languages proficiently or work only decently with 40 to 70 languages.
Mid-range: Mid-range translators cost between $150 and $250. The majority of these devices pride themselves in their standalone functionality and can handle up to 106 languages as well as dialects and accents. There are some models that also feature photo translation, though they’re at the higher end of the bracket.
Expensive: For maximum translation capabilities, expect to spend between $250 and $360. These models have speech and language translations with much higher levels of accuracy. They often come with noise-cancelling technology, high-frequency microphones, and better quality cameras.
Q. My language translation device requires use with an app, but I don’t have an international plan with my phone. What do I do?
A. You don’t need an international plan to use the WiFi on your phone, which is what these devices require to work with an app. Some device apps require a data plan, so refer to the user manual for requirements. Another thing to keep in mind when using a paired translator is that its battery may far outlive that of your phone. To make sure your translation doesn’t come to an abrupt halt, bring a power bank with you to juice up your phone.
Q. I’m in an area where multiple languages are spoken. Can my language translation device automatically detect it?
A. No, you need to change the language settings each time. For the most part, devices or their apps allow for seamless transition between foreign languages to account for this. If you want to be fully prepared in multilingual areas, research which languages and dialects are spoken so you know which languages to expect on the fly.
Q. Why is there more than one type of English listed on my language translation device?
A. Just like other languages, English is spoken with different dialects, accents, and phrases. American English and British English are usually included, and some devices also cover Canadian English. Native English speakers may not notice major differences, but foreign speakers and English Language Learners (ELL) detect it, which is why these settings are especially helpful to them. Not all devices are prepared for differences in English slang and figures of speech, so awkward literal translations are part and parcel of using the device in these situations.