As a English speaking Brit, travelling abroad used to be so much simpler. If you couldn’t speak the lingo you’d just raise your voice until everyone understood or, failing that, shoot the locals. With the heady days of empire now well and truly behind us, it’s all got a bit more complicated.
In many countries the locals pretend to not be able to speak English at all or, at best, just grunt back. The pressure to master basic phrases like “please”, “thank you” and “look, sorry, I’m not personally responsible for my country’s history of imperialist oppression”, seems to be on. Thank heavens for the app. Here are some of the better ones for the linguistically challenged.
CoolgorillaCoolgorilla offers eight languages on their app. This is a British produced app (a lot use American English) so things like chips (not French Fries) are in the list of essential local food experiences. There is a small charge per language in this case, but with over forty categories suitable for the average tourist and upwards of five hundred phrases in each category, this is a pretty competitively priced app. Some translations, “lasagne” for example, seem a touch unnecessary, but overall the app combines good categories in enough depth to be able to make yourself understood.
Trip LingoTrip Lingo is available on iPhone and Android this little app lets you talk like the locals. It features a fairly unique approach with its “Slangslider”. This allows you to veer from formal (laughable) phrases to casual, realistic local versions. The app helps you to learn more comprehensively by working out which phrases you’ve picked up and those that you haven’t. Languages available include the major European ones, Japanese, Hindi, Korean and Hebrew. Dari (an Afghan language) is also on the list for the truly adventurous traveller. Additional features include the “Pirate” language, which appears to be a quaint fictional “aargh me hearty” and “shiver me timbers” sort of version, not just Somali.
World Nomads AppThe World Nomads App offers so much more. Not only helping you to find the loo in at least twenty six languages, it also offers a range of advice and information on other local features and attractions. The language apps are comprehensive and tailored to suit the basic needs of travellers while the ‘Ask a Nomad’ app uses the concept of crowd sourcing to supply up-to-date relevant information. In the case of this particular app it relies on a network of fellow travellers (thankfully not real nomads) to provide the information on attractions and other genuinely useful local information in 129 nations across the world.
Oxford TranslatorThe Oxford Translator Travel Pro certainly sounds authoritative it is, however, limited to only five languages at the moment. To be fair, these languages include some pretty major ones like Mandarin, Spanish and French. The app features similar categories to the others including general conversation, accommodation and food. On balance it does cover these categories in much greater detail although you pay a much higher fee per language. Most users agree that the app is definitely the one to go for if you intend to learn a language in more depth, unlike many of the others which are designed for getting through a trip without resorting to shouting loudly or shooting people.
Learn the Lingo
Several of the apps feature a basic free version, although World Nomads is the only in depth free translation app. Given the additional usefulness of the “Ask a Nomad” side of the offering it may be the one to go for those on extended and low budget gap year trips – although for extended stays in remote, less visiting locations, signing up for a relevant language on the Oxford Translator may be worth the investment. For those looking to fit in effortlessly Trip Lingo should be a serious contender, moderately priced and with a sensible approach to talking the talk.
Whether it’s La Manga Club or the Green Zone in Kabul, a range of apps are there to help you walk the walk and talk the talk abroad, without the need to raise your voice.