Reading signs and menus you can’t understand

Visiting a country where you don’t speak the language can be awkward.

Luckily, there’s now a range of translation apps for mobile phones that can help you read those menus and reduce the chance of being misunderstood.

The most comprehensive app we’ve come across is Google Translate, mainly because it has a feature called Word Lens.

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If you’re puzzling at a street or building sign or a menu written in a language that you can’t understand, simply point the phone at it – and the words should change to English.

The feature currently supports about 30 languages – and Google says more are increasingly being added.

Free to download, the app also has speech translation that converts your words into a language you select from a library of more than 50.

For example, if you are visiting France, you can ask for directions in English, hold up the phone, and it will repeat your words in French. If someone replies in French, the app is designed to convert that back to English – and so on.

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It may sound like something out of Star Trek, but we’ve found that although the translation system understands English, it doesn’t always grasp our Australian accents. And it can also be confused by background noise – and doesn’t seem to grasp tenses yet.

Another drawback would appear to be human nature: not everyone appreciates having a phone pushed toward them – and we’ve heard stories of people simply declining to answer questions.

There are alternatives available for those who don’t want a Google app.

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We have used one called iTranslate, which is free to download from Apple’s App Store in its basic form, but has an impressive word-recognition feature available for a small fee.

Other popular apps include SayHi Translate; Universal Translator; Speak Text; and Jibbigo Translator, which doesn’t necessarily require an internet connection to work.

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