iPhone: Top Language Translation Apps

Our favorite apps work with or without Internet access. Because, chances are, Wi-Fi hotspots aren't the only places you'll need help with the local lingo.

Details: Oxford Translator and iTunes Store

Lonely Planet Phrasebooks
$10 per language

Languages: Eighteen, including Cantonese, Czech, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Mexican Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese.

Frustrations: Each app works like a classic travel phrase book, featuring more than 600 phrases. The apps come in languages that many competitors ignore, such as Swahili and Vietnamese. But Lonely Planet's print phrase books are far more in-depth than its apps are. Also, there are some technical problems: When you choose a phrase, you see the translation quickly, but there's an odd lag before you hear the audio clip. The search feature is woeful, failing to retrieve common synonyms for words. If you type "bathroom" in the search field, it finds nothing. Type "toilet," however, and the app fetches five relevant phrases. In short, you get nearly the same quality with Coolgorilla's apps at a tenth of the price.

Overall: This being LP—and therefore hip—the apps also include all sorts of sentences overlooked by stodgier, traditional phrase books, such as "I'm looking for a gay venue," "Do you have vegetarian food?" and "I'd like a SIM card for your network." LP is probably most useful for languages that other competitors miss.

Details: Lonely Planet and iTunes Store

Many apps promise to act as a personal translator around the globe. We found three that live up to the hype.

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