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How to Find the Best Electronic Translator

Updated on September 28, 2011

Electronic Translator: Eliminating Communication Barriers

An electronic translator is generally very portable, perfect for those on the road and for students who already have enough books and larger portable devices to tote around. They have a thinner profile than many phrase books and foreign language dictionaries. In most cases, they also offer spoken translation, which means that the device will say translated words and phrases aloud, so that you can communicate more clearly or learn a language properly.

These devices are perfect for travel, and in some instances, ideal for learning as well.

There are of course stand alone translators that are designed primarily as a single use device. The other option is to purchase language translation software for your computer or mobile device. Clearly, either a mobile or stand alone devicer would be necessary for travel purposes.

Below you will find some electronic translators that current users prefer. We've divided them up by price range. The more affordable ones offer a set number of words and phrases, while some of the higher priced devices offer larger dictionaries, the ability to translate words you input, more travel tools, and other higher end features. Affordable devices can be perfect when you'll travel briefly and have little knowledge of the local language. The more advanced devices are better suited for conversational use and for more serious "students" of a language.

Buying Tips

When choosing an electronic translator, some users may need simplicity, and others may need something more extensive. Either way, you'll certainly want to consider features like:

  • support for the language you need (some devices offer single language translation, others multiple language support, and some allow you to download free dictionaries for nearly any language)
  • a sufficient bank of words and phrases (this depends upon your individual needs)
  • the ability to translate words you input if communication flexibility is important (this isn't available on lower priced electronic translators)
  • spoken output for proper pronunciation
  • human voice vs. an electronic voice (human voice tends to be more natural and easy to understand
  • a backlit LCD screen to read words and phrases (without a backlight, it's difficult to use in low light situations)
  • the depth of vocabulary (this is particularly important for those wanting to learn a language or truly converse) A dictionary and thesaurus are useful. Being able to find all grammatical forms of a word, idioms, slang, and so forth can also be of benefit.
  • travel tools (some devices may offer access to travel guides and factbooks as well as a world clock, converter, GPS navigation, scanners for translating text, and more)
  • Learning tools (these are important for those who truly want to learn a language)
  • Bi-directional translation (some users may need to be able to translate words and phrases both ways). In addition, some translators will display characters on the screen from both languages. For English speakers for instance, this means that languages that use non-Roman characters can be viewed as well as heard, this is especially useful for students. You also need to be sure the keyboard accepts input in your language. Arabic characters won't be useful for most English speakers, and visa versa.
  • Long battery life
  • Memory for storing phone numbers or most frequently used phrases

Find a Budget Model

Here you will find a variety of electronic translators that are priced under $100. They are perfect for those who just need the basics to get by while visiting other countries.

The Nyrius LT12 is one of the most affordable options out there. This electronic translator supports cross translation of English, French,German, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Dutch, Russian, Portugese, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and Swedish languages. It has 8400 categorized, built-in phrases. Users search for the phrases they wish to translate using the keyboard/backlit LCD screen and the device speaks it aloud. It features a built in speaker, headphone jack, volume and reset buttons, as well as a world clock/alarm clock. The battery typically lasts 6 months and it comes with a one year warranty.

The Franklin EST 4016 is another affordable and very portable device. It translates over 800 phrases in each of 16 languages: Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portugese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, and Vietnamese. It also inlcudes a world/alarm clock and comes with a rechargeable battery and multi-plug adapter. This device has a two line, backlit display for reading and will also speak phrases aloud using a recorded human voice.

Find a Mid-Range Device

Here you'll find electronic translators priced from $100 to $300. These devices are perfect for those who have more advanced communication needs or are students trying to hone their skills in another language. They may offer idioms, slang, and more complex phrases. They also offer more communication flexibility, going beyond offering a set number of common phrases.

The ECTACO 500AL for instance, offers advanced text-to-speech capabilities. It will translate dozens of foreign languages. It comes with 14,000 phrases built in and will translate and speak aloud any word that you enter via the keypad, once you download the free dictionary from the ECTACO site. It's also great for teaching languages via games, and includes a currency and metric converter, calculator, and world, clock.

The Franklin EST 5014 supports 14 languages with 20,000 words and 1,000 phrases. It allows PInYin and Romaji (Chinese and Japanese) input on the keyboard (as well as English) and can display Roman, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Russian characters on the screen. The Babylon electronic dictionary is a Hebrew-English/English-Hebrew device. It inlcudes 6,200,000 words and 300,000 expressions, a calculator, phone book, metric and currency converter.

The AM103 is a bi-directional Chinese-English translator that will provide PinYin on the display as well as the phonetic English pronunciation. It includes a calculator, unit converter, world time, and conversational sentences and phrases. The 11Translator is a basic Taglog/English dictionary that uses the voices of native Taglog speakers for the correct pronunciation. It includes an alarm/world clock, conversion calculator, and phone book.

For those who are native Arabic speakers but need an English translator, the Almaunid BAS-1875 might be the electronic translator of choice. The Franklin EST 7014 speaking translator will function for Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portugese, and Russian. It includes 250,000 words and 2,000 phrases.

Find a Higher End Model

These electronic translators are priced $300 and up. They offer a variety of travel tools and teaching features. They are great for travel but many of them are even better for those who are working to really master another language. These devices typically offer access to a variety of travel tools, touch screens, and other high-end features.

The Nurian X35 is an English-Korean and English-Chinese electronic translator. It has a 4.3" wide TFT color touchscreen and provides adjustable font size. It also offers an FM radio tuner, digital voice recorder for memos, a calendar, calculator, unit converter, world time clock, text viewer, and can be used for image, video, and MP3 playback.

The ECTACO electronic translators offer a full range of features. Some include a scanner to allow the user to instantly translate text. For instance, a menu can be scanned to help with ordering meals. They may also feature functions like iHELP which allows the device to pronounce emergency phrases instantly.

They translate bi-directionally, many of them offer keyboards with characters from both languages. Many of the ECTACO electronic translators have over 14,000 phrases built-in.

These language translators offer access to audiobooks, complete travel guides from Fodors, and world factbooks. Some provide voice guided GPS navigation and even learning games for those trying to master a new language. They all provide travel tools like a converter, calculator, and world clock.

Some ECTACO translators are great teaching tools. They may allow the user to repeat back words and phrases, and the device will provide feedback on the accuracy of pronunciation. There are tools like a picture dictionary to help in the learning process as well. You can see a brief demonstration of the teaching abilities of this device below.

ECTACO Electronic Translator as a Teaching Tool


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    • irenemaria profile image

      irenemaria 7 years ago from Sweden

      I really could use one of these on my travels! Many times I have been using eyes, fingers and even jumps to make myself understood. And it did not help =)

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      This is a great idea for traveling.