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Best Overall: Brookstone Passport at Amazon "Has eight conversational categories to choose from and it 'speaks' aloud and displays the phrase on the screen."
Best for Learning Spanish: ECTACO Partner 900 PRO Spanish at Amazon "Take a photo of text (such as a restaurant menu) and it instantly converts it to English."
Best for Translating Chinese: Iflytek Electronic Pocket Voice Translator at Amazon "Designed to block out background noise, so users can speak clearly into the microphone."
Best Budget: Franklin TWE-118 5-Language European Translator at Amazon "There’s a search function that categorizes phrases into useful groups such as dining, hotels, directions, business and more."
Best Voice Translator: Pulomi TT at Amazon "Instantly translate between 52 different languages, including Japanese, German, Arabic, Hindi, and many more."
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Brookstone Passport
For an alternative to carrying several dictionaries in various languages, the Brookstone Passport is an excellent choice and provides more than 8,000 useful phrases. The device cross translates 12 international languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Dutch, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and Swedish. Measuring 5.4 x 4.8 x 4 inches, the portable translator has eight conversational categories to choose from and it “speaks” aloud and displays the phrase on the screen. Another handy feature is that it allows you to save up to 50 favorite phrases. It also comes with a built-in personal phone book to help stay organized and an auto-shut off button with password access.
Best for Learning Spanish: ECTACO Partner 900 PRO Spanish
The palm-sized ECTACO Partner 900 is ideal for those interested in learning Spanish. It instantly converts voice text by repeating it aloud or speaking it in Spanish or English, and also has a roster of other features to help you learn the language. Take a photo of text (such as a restaurant menu) and it instantly converts it to English (an Internet connection is required for this part of the program). There’s also a talking picture dictionary and phrasebook, as well as a full language-learning program with linguistic crosswords and pronunciation assistance. The translator measures 6 x 3.5 x 0.7 inches and weighs 9.8 ounces.
Best for Translating Chinese: Salange Iflytek Electronic Pocket Voice Translator
IflyTek has been developing its Auto Speech Recognition technology that allows a device to convert speech instantly, and the Salange Electronic Translator is pocket-sized and allows users to translate Chinese to English and English to Chinese. The device is designed to block out background noise, so users can speak clearly into the microphone. After recording, the phrase is translated into the opposite language and “spoken” by the device. Salange is perfect for those who need practice with the “audio” part of a language (it doesn’t translate written word) or for communicating when traveling. The translator measures 3.2 x 1.6 x 1 inches and has a micro SD charging cord.
Best Budget: Franklin TWE-118 5-Language European Translator
For a translator that will get you through the basics of several European languages without putting a giant hole in your pocket, the Franklin TWE-118 is a great choice. The handheld device translates to and from English, French, Spanish, German and Italian with more than 210,000 translations available. The device measures 4.25 x 2.75 x .62 and resembles a calculator, with a letter keyboard to type in words and phrases. There’s a search function that categorizes phrases into useful groups such as dining, hotels, directions, business and more. There’s also a built-in currency converter, spell checker, databank for names and phone numbers and calculator, plus a world clock and games.
Best Voice Translator: Pulomi TT
As a translator that can recognize and convert spoken language, the Pulomi TT is a useful tool for any international traveler. This super-compact device slips into your pocket or purse so you can translate anywhere, anytime. Download the TT app, connect your phone to the device via Bluetooth and instantly translate between 52 different languages, including Japanese, German, Arabic, Hindi, and many more (it does require an Internet connection to work). The TT uses a high-fidelity microphone to record the foreign language and then speaks the translation back, in addition to sending a text transcription to your phone. This makes it a very helpful device for travelers, and particularly useful to those who are trying to learn another language.
What to Look for in a Digital Translator
Language Some translators can handle any language you throw at them (or, at least, quite a lot of them); others are equipped to handle one language only, like Chinese or Spanish. Be aware that the do-it-all types might not have quite the vocabulary range of dedicated models, but if you’re jet setting all over, having a lot of the basics covered—versus buying a different translator for every language—might be ideal.
Cost Depending on how often you travel, you might want to weigh whether it’s better to splash out a bit more on a translator that has better voice recognition and vocabulary or grab a budget model that covers the basics for a one-off adventure.
Keyboard vs. voice input Think about how you’re likely going to use a digital translator. If you’re primarily trying to translate conversations, a voice-input translator might be your best bet. Conversely, a keyboard-based model might limit you when it comes to figuring out what others are saying.