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How do I Choose the Best Handheld Language Translator?

Tara Barnett
Tara Barnett

A handheld language translator can be a major investment, so it is important to choose the best one. Some features to consider include the device's portability, its battery life, and its ability to translate. In many cases, it may be better to go with a handheld language translator that only works between two languages, as these devices are often more comprehensive than those that translate between many languages. It is also important to consider how one will actually be using the device, because while some people primarily need a dictionary for minor help, others need a survival tool. Given all the options for a handheld language translator, it is a good idea to do significant research before making a major purchase.

Some pocket translators are large and clunky by today's technology standards. Most people who use this type of device are traveling, and so having a compact translator is important. Another problem for translators is battery life. If the machine cannot make it through an entire day, then it will not be very good for problems that might arise and require translation. Essentially, if the device does not work properly, there is no use in owning it.

Woman posing
Woman posing

There are several different input styles for handheld language translators. Some translators are advanced enough to work with speech recognition, but most involve either typed input or written input using a special pen and the screen. How the resulting translation is displayed is also important. A program may be able to play an audio clip of the translation, or it may merely display it on the translator's screen. In that case, one must make sure that one can actually utilize the resulting information, because if one cannot read what the screen says because the language uses different characters, one will not be able to make much use of the dictionary except by showing it to people.

Many people are drawn to devices that can translate between many different languages. These features are truly stunning and may be useful for people who travel a lot. It is somewhat rare that a person will ever use that many languages. A device that works with only two languages may not have as many options in terms of translation possibilities, but it is often more detailed and accurate because it has been developed for a very specific use and can devote more space to fulfilling that function.

One final thing to consider is that many phones now have the capacity to function as translators. The functionality of some phone translators can be quite complex and may involve spoken as well as written components. These programs are often much more inexpensive than a handheld language translator and involve no additional technology. One may find that after looking at all available programs one doesn't need a handheld language translator at all.

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@pastanaga - If you are somewhere on business, or for a specific purpose, then a simple dictionary might not be enough. Sometimes you just need a translator. And the technology is starting to become good enough that you can generally rely on it.

If you were really worried about pronunciation or mis-translation, then switch it around and see what happens when it translates sentences into English. Also look up as many reviews as possible from people who have used it before.


@Mor - You have to put a lot of faith into it though. I mean, there's no reason it would necessarily be any better at saying words than you are. I know there are a lot of words in English that can't be translated automatically, because they don't sound anything like the way they look on the page. And that goes double for place names.

I think it would be better to just have an electronic dictionary that you could show to people. Most of the time they will be able to read and understand what you need.


Even if the language you're translating to uses familiar letters, you should still go for a translator that will sound out words for you if you need it to, or at least will display a phonetic version of the word.

When my sister and I were traveling in Eastern Europe we didn't think we'd have much trouble with the language. We thought we could just show people our guidebooks, or gesture for what we wanted and for the most part that was true.

But, when you are running through a train station, trying to reach the right train before it leaves, or hopelessly lost in a city, looking for your bed and breakfast, then it really helps to be able to pronounce the words correctly. More than once we tried to ask people for guidance multiple times, only to eventually have someone explain that we weren't even close to the right pronunciation and no one had any idea what we were asking for. A handheld language translator would have helped a great deal.

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