There is one thing I always try to do when I travel and that is to attempt to learn at least some words in the native language of the country I’m traveling to. Alas (yes I used the word alas) I am not gifted with the natural ability to learn languages easily, but I try anyway. On this trip to Portugal, I found that although many people speak really good English, I have encountered a few that do not. Oddly, many of the public transit companies employees did not speak English. That’s when I whip out Google Translate. What a marvelously useful piece of technology, especially if you want to experience a more authentic out of the box travel experience and be able to communicate with the locals. The app is free. You pick your own native language, in my case English, then pick the language you want so you can communicate with others. There are more than 100 languages to choose from. You can type your message in your native tongue and it will automatically translate it into the other language of your choice. It also has a little microphone icon that allows you to hear the message as well as see it written. It also stores a history of your translations and lists them so you can recall them easily. I literally put in common phases the way I like to speak and listened to them to help me pronounce the language correctly. If you aren’t brave enough to say what you are reading on Google Translate outloud then just use the microphone icon and let your phone talk for you. Here is a great example for how this came in handy, I went to a public bathroom in a train station. There were 3 stalls but 2 of them had a sign that said they were out of service. There was an older lady that was standing there that clearly had to go but she would not go into the open stall. She kept signaling to the middle stall. I asked, in Portuguese if she spoke English. She said no. Then I typed in Google translate asking her what was wrong with the open stall? I put the phone so she could see and as it turned out she could not read either. So I said it in my best Portuguese with the help of Google Translate and she demonstrated that the door of the open stall did not close all the way to lock it, so she didn’t want to use that stall. I used Google translate to tell her that I’d watch the door for her if she would watch the door for me. Was she ever so grateful!!! Both her and I had to go really bad and no telling how long she had been there before I got there. See there is no end on what Google Translate can help with. You just never know. If you are typing challenged, you can use the microphone to talk and it will capture what you are saying and also Translate it for you. I would caution that if you are in a noisy place like a busy city street or anywhere in India, chances are the microphone option will not work as I tried with the cutest old lady ever at a bus stop once and it was a bit frustrating. I was asking about which bus to take to a mall and it kept bringing up elephants and unicorns in the translation. 🙂 but the fun doesn’t end there! Google Translate also has this awesome feature for scanning a picture and translating it for you. So let’s say you are a plaque reader like me and you go to a museum and the plaques are not in English, you whip out Google Translate on your phone, hold up the phone to the words and select which language it is looking at. When you hold the camera to the words it will magically translate the words for you. You can scan and capture a picture by hitting the little camera button. Then you can take the image, select stuff with you finger and cut and paste excerpts if you want. I find that the picture translator is not always correct on every word but it translates enough so you can get the gist of what is trying to be said. But wait there’s more! Google Translate also has a feature that you can download an offline version of the language of your choice to your phone, (for free)then you are not dependant upon wifi access. I found the offline version not as robust but I found it to work well enough for my needs. But wait there is still more!! A handy dandy phrase book with common phrases. It doesn’t end there you can write with your finger or stylus if you are typing challenged to do a translation as well. All in all a very good application, for travelers that I think takes away a big part of the anxiety regarding communication issues while traveling. You can use it to help you to learn a language as well (for free) and at any time that is convenient to you.
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