If you are of a certain age, the suggestion of learning a new language results in a deluge of off-putting childhood memories that involve repeating phrases from a dog-eared textbook under the merciless gaze of your teacher. But things have evolved. Better technology, improved learning methods and more personalized experiences mean that acquiring a new language is now easier and more enjoyable than ever before. Or, if you just want to be able to get around during your upcoming journey abroad, there are a number of devices and apps that can help interpret speech or translate signage.
So, let’s look at the range of technology at your fingertips if you want to learn, speak or translate a new language.
Learning a new language
Rosetta Stone remains the benchmark language-learning app in the industry for going from beginner to fluent speaker. You can use it to learn any one of 28 different languages from Irish to Swahili, and it includes the option of a weekly tutor. While it’s one of the more expensive subscription-based options, it is accessible on any device, has a great amount of variety to its lessons and offers an all-round excellent experience.
If you don’t like the thought of an ongoing subscription, a cheaper option is Rocket Languages Premium. While the number of languages on offer is more limited, it still has a great range of activities and learning tools to keep things interesting, and you only pay a one-off fee for lifetime access. This is probably a better option if you only want to learn the basics for travelling to a new country.
On the other hand, Duolingo is a completely free online language-learning program. Offering courses in 30 languages, including Welsh and Navajo, it has more than 300 million users and offers a personalized experience with lessons that adapt to individual learning styles. It makes excellent use of gamification to reward you with virtual coins, new levels and high scores to keep you motivated. It also provides interactive grading exercises for instant feedback. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you can even try your hand at learning High Valyrian.
If you’re only interested in speaking and listening as opposed to writing a new language, the audio-only Michel Thomas lessons are a fantastic way to learn a new language quickly. They involve no books, homework or memorizing and are reportedly based on how your brain prefers to store and retrieve information. There are 18 languages to choose from and it’s possible to go from the beginner to high-intermediate level in around 30-40 hours of lessons.
Translating and interpreting while abroad
Even with the best willpower in the world, it can still take years to be confident enough with a new language to start using it unsupported in a native country. Luckily, there are now plenty of handheld translation devices, which means you will never be stranded without access to the information you need to survive.
The top-of-the-range devices support two-way voice interpretation, meaning they allow several people to have a conversation in different languages without having to wait for each party to have their side translated first. The Birgus Two Way Language Translator (Amazon non-affiliate link) is one of the best-performing devices on the market. Offering a database of 70 languages and with 98% translation accuracy, the Birgus will both speak a translation and display it on-screen. This is great for when you’re still learning the language, as it allows you to view and memorize key phrases in real time.
Towards the cheaper end of the spectrum, the Pulomi FYJ01 Easy Trans Smart Translator offers single-voice interpretation only. The Pulomi will vocalize your translations instantaneously, but in order to receive the translated text, you will need to download an app to your smartphone. The device connects to your phone via Bluetooth and translates 52 languages, although it lacks any kind of customer support, so your best bet for getting set up is by viewing tutorials on YouTube.
Rather than utilizing a handheld device, you can also opt for Bluetooth translation earpieces like the WT2 Language Translator. Featuring two in-ear devices, the WT2 system allows you to communicate directly with the person wearing the other earpiece. It recognizes 36 languages, understands 84 different accents and is 95% accurate in its translations. It connects to your phone and sends it a transcript of your translated conversation. You can also take advantage of a feature that allows you to repeat a translation over a speaker so it can be heard by a group rather than just the owner of the other earpiece.
Sticking to the apps
Given the processing power of smartphones, you may decide that you don’t need to purchase a separate device at all. Apps like iTranslate Voice 3 or SayHi work as a single-voice translator without the need for any additional hardware. You can simply speak into your phone and watch it translate your text on-screen.
The more sophisticated translation apps allow you to translate text from photographs (such as TextGrabber, Microsoft Translator and Waygo) or, in the case of Google Translate’s Word Lens, even via an AR layer that offers real-time translations of street signs, menus or anything else through your smartphone camera.
The reasons for learning a new language are too numerous to list. Apart from offering a potential career boost, languages provide you with the opportunity to gain unparalleled insight into new cultures and stimulate parts of your brain that otherwise can’t be reached. Of course, if you intend on translating anything work-related, we’d always recommend letting the experts handle it instead.