The best apps for translators and travellers abroad

How did we ever live without smartphones? A little device that puts all the world’s information in your pocket… and, yes, it’ll even make phone calls as well, if you really want it to.

They say there’s an app for everything these days, and that’s just about true – but with so many on offer, it can be hard to find the ones that really interest you. Here are just a few of our favourite language-focused apps that will help both professional translators and the more casual international traveller.

Google Translate

Google’s translation features are already pretty good (even if they’re still a long way from being able to replace a human translator) but it’s a newer feature that puts this app at the very top of our list. The Word Lens tool reads paper documents using your smartphone camera and uses an augmented-reality display to show you a live translation of whatever you’re looking at. If you’re a translator, you might know that vague sinking feeling that sets in when someone sends you a paper document to translate, or a scanned image. At that point, looking up a specific word in the text can become a bit of a hassle, especially if your time and resources are limited, but Word Lens lets you read it directly off the page and shows you an instant translation in your language. How cool is that?

And meanwhile, everyday travellers need never be stuck staring helplessly at a menu in a foreign restaurant again.


There are many dictionary apps out there; Linguee focuses on German and English, but gets our nod because it meets a few key criteria that set the standard for all languages. It’s free, it has an offline mode (so it won’t rack up roaming data costs if you use it abroad) and it has a huge database showing how people use language in the real world – so you can see the contexts in which people use words, turns of phrase and specialist terminology. It’s great if, for example, you know a word can mean a few different things in your own language and need some extra context. All of these are features you can and should look for when choosing a dictionary app for your language pair.

Microsoft Office Mobile

A fully-fledged office suite on your phone or tablet? Absolutely. For free? Oh, yes. Microsoft Office has long since set the standard for business documents, and now you can use it on the move. If you’re a freelance translator working from home, you can now take a project out with you to the park, to a cafe, wherever you like – without having to bring a heavy, cumbersome laptop along. Office Mobile still isn’t quite convenient or efficient enough to justify permanently throwing away your PC – especially if you prefer to use CAT tools rather than translate documents in Word – but it’s a handy tool for certain projects and circumstances.

There you have it: our guide to the essentials you should have on every mobile device. These are our top three, but what are yours? Have we missed an essential tool? Let us know in the comments!

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