The 10 Best Electronic Translators
This wiki has been updated 10 times since it was first published in November of 2018. Whether you're traveling to a country where English isn't readily spoken or you want a handy tool to help you learn a foreign tongue, one of the electronic translators on our list can get the job done. Some are designed to be as small and simple as possible to make your journeys more convenient, while others are as large as some mobile devices and come equipped with tools for language education. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best electronic translator on Amazon.
November 21, 2018:
Very few of the options in this market come from reputable companies, as most are the products of foreign factories. To sift out the best performers, we looked hard at things like language support, response time, and battery life. The Birgus unit in particular stood out as a compact option with a helpful touchscreen.
The Best Electronic Translator For You
For quick jaunts through the city, these numbers may not matter as much, but if you'll trek through the country, you won't want to run out of juice.
With technology bounding forward, there are now plenty of electronic translators to choose from, which is good news for travelers who hate studying grammar. In choosing, you'll certainly think about the machine's accuracy, but there are a few other considerations to keep in mind.
The first thing you should look at is the list of offered languages. We know this seems incredibly obvious, but it's often the obvious we overlook. Besides which, it's easy to assume the language you speak/want to speak is standard, but this isn't always the case. And note that many manufacturers include dialects in the number of languages offered, which can be helpful if you need them but less so if you need a very wide range of completely separate languages.
The second consideration is connectivity. Many require Wi-Fi, others a SIM, and some have a complete memory and need no connection at all. While it would seem the third option would always be the best, these also tend to be quite a bit more expensive and may not offer as much language choice. If you do opt for a Wi-Fi model, keep in mind that some don't support authentication, such as when your hotel makes you sign in with email after you connect.
The next consideration is ease of use. Are you okay with many buttons, or is a simple one-touch operation okay? Devices with many buttons, a screen, and perhaps a keyboard usually have more features — but do you have the time (and patience) to learn all the ins and outs? Or would you rather have something you simply pick up and speak into? Think about how you plan to use it, too. You might not need all the bells and whistles if you're only using this tool for occasional clarification; on the other hand, if you're learning a language, you'll probably appreciate the extras.
Finally, it's wise to think about size and power. Some devices are larger than a smartphone, while others are slim and won't crowd your keys in your pocket. As for power, most run on lithium ion batteries, but they don't all offer the same run time per charge. You'll want to look at this run time as well as the charge time. For quick jaunts through the city, these numbers may not matter as much, but if you'll trek through the country, you won't want to run out of juice.
Dos and Don'ts
Most electronic translators are easy enough to use, but we've got a few pieces of advice for getting the most from your new device. For example, plan to use a translator for short communications; you won't be speaking paragraphs' worth of speech at a time. Keep it simple, too. Don't say: "As for myself, I will be requiring a bowl of your tastiest rice." Instead, say: "A bowl of rice, please." If you worry about seeming impolite, use your body language to help show your intent or emotions.
For example, plan to use a translator for short communications; you won't be speaking paragraphs' worth of speech at a time.
By the same token, don't use a lot of slang. Anyone in the American South understands, for instance, "Can I sit a spell?" But these types of regional sayings, as well as any non-standard usages, will probably cause some problems. You should also be ready to repeat and/or clarify what you mean: "Is this seat taken?" "May I sit here?" "Is anyone sitting here?"
It's also crucial to be polite and patient. If someone is willing to help you through the aid of the translating device, be respectful of their time. You might also consider learning just a few important words in the local language. "Hello," "goodbye," "please," and "thank you" all go a long way toward building goodwill and showing that you respect your surroundings.
Last, but definitely not least, don't rely only on an electronic translator in serious legal or medical situations. Instead, use a qualified human translator. Currently, electronic translators can present small inaccuracies that are generally harmless in daily conversation but that could cause problems in certain situations.
Will Machine Translation Replace Human Learning?
In science fiction, devices like the Babel fish or universal translator work just about perfectly, allowing for real-time translation that very rarely causes any misunderstandings. Of course, fiction isn't real life, and these "perfect" devices work through technobabble, hand-waving, and suspension of disbelief. But will instant, continuous, perfect machine translation ever become a reality? What is the pinnacle of machine translation — and can we reach it?
What is the pinnacle of machine translation — and can we reach it?
Most would say we're closer than ever, especially since the advent of neural machine translation. This type of MT was first described in 2014 and then introduced by Google in 2016; it uses an artificial neural network to create a statistical model, predicting sequences of words. Considering that the first machine translator used a simple rule-based model, and was invented as recently as the early 1950s, this is no small leap forward. Given another 60 or 70 years, isn't it possible that we'll all have a device for speaking to anyone and everyone, just like in Star Trek?
The answer really depends upon whom you ask. Many data scientists and inventors claim the sky's the limit, while there are linguists and translators who are skeptical that a machine can ever handle all the nuance of changing one language into another. Some experts claim that machine translated works will reach a certain level of accuracy, but always require some fine-tuning from an experienced human translator.
Of course, if you returned to the 1940s and tried to explain a laptop, no one would believe that such a magical device could be possible. We have no way of knowing what technology will bring, especially since abilities in this domain grow exponentially, meaning that the growth rate speeds up as ability and knowledge increase.
And, in some ways, we are fairly near to perfect machine translation; consider how many electronic translation devices there are to choose from now, and how much they can do. You don't need to understand one word of another language, yet you can travel to a foreign country and communicate with its denizens. For many, then, the future is definitely now.
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