A translator in your pocket? Are mobile translation apps worth it for business users in 2023?

If you’re not talking to an overseas audience, you probably should be. And it’s far easier than you might think, thanks to services such as Semantix’ machine translation and regular translation apps.


      We’re all so familiar with mobile phone apps these days. The app industry has progressed in leaps and bounds. There seems to be an app for almost everything now. Previous apps for translation weren’t accurate or reliable enough to be used for much more than casual chats. Today it’s very different. Some apps are now powerful enough to be of real use in business situations.

      Whether you need your comment to be understood on a social media post or you have more complex business communication needs, there’s a translation app that might be capable of doing the job. But, with so many to choose from, which app is right for you?

      As well as hundreds of language possibilities quite literally at your fingertips, mobile apps for translation have many more benefits. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at what types of apps there are and how to choose the right one.

      What are translation apps?

      The ability to translate almost instantly on a hand-held device? Until recently, this sounded like the stuff of science fiction, but it’s now a reality accessible to most people.

      Apps for translation aren’t perfect… yet. But they’re good enough for many translation needs. They’re not going to take the place of a human translator, or even more powerful cloud or desktop-based software, but they’re certainly worth considering if you’re looking for a way to power up your global communications.

      The more sophisticated apps use voice-recognition software. Using them is as simple as selecting your source and target language, then speaking the word or phrase you need translated. You’ll then get a text translation and an audio response, which is really helpful when it comes to pronunciation.

      Translation apps have improved quickly because they learn as you use them and share what they’ve learned with other apps – and more people than ever before are using them. They’re constantly storing data about sounds, text and meanings, remembering what’s right and what’s wrong. This means that, over time, they deliver increasingly accurate results.

      Want to know more about Semantix translation and content services?

      Why are translation apps a good tool?

      Just because most apps are simple to use, that doesn’t mean that they’re not powerful tools. Their popularity speaks for itself. Google Translate, perhaps the most well-known app for translation of all, has more than 500 million users.

      Access to a translation app means having a solution to those frustrating situations where you need to communicate but you’re completely stuck due to a language barrier.

      From a handy way of ordering your meal in a restaurant to talking to new international customers, language apps are an easy solution. Apps for translation are now reliable and powerful enough to be trusted far more than in the past.

      Here’s just a few of the situations where having a mini translator in your pocket is going to put a smile on your face:

      • Foreign travel: Whether it’s for business or pleasure, travelling in a country where you don’t speak the language can be challenging. With a quick way of translating in your pocket, tasks like ordering food, asking for directions, understanding signs and navigating public transport is hassle-free.
      • Improving your language skills: If you’re using a translation app to help you communicate, you’re learning too. Finding yourself stuck for a crucial word mid-conversation is frustrating, but it only takes seconds to ask an app. You’ll feel more confident in your language skills, and communicating in other languages becomes far less of an ordeal.
      • Social media: This has become phenomenally successful in the last few decades. You’re now able to chat with people from all corners of the globe at any time of day or night. And social media isn’t only social anymore. Opportunities for businesses to reach more potential customers and network with other organisations are huge. But, the potential is limited by language differences. Translation apps help you communicate and connect with people in whatever language they speak.
      • Talking to international employees: Having access to instant translation means you can speak to your employees in their language. Whether you’re communicating online or in person, using an app for translation means there’s less room for misunderstandings caused by language. That’s good for you and it’s good for your workforce too.
      • Meetings with international customers and suppliers: Translation using a simple app opens new doors for participating in overseas meetings. Translation apps offer a backup to your existing language skills, or can provide a quick way of checking you’ve understood proceedings correctly.
      Could using a translation app help your business? Keep reading to find out.

      What types of apps are available?

      There are a huge number of apps for translation now available. It’s worth researching what’s out there and what app is best suited to your needs before making a choice. For example, some apps are better at translating between certain languages and perform poorly with others. Some are better for socialising, some are better for business conversations, and so on.

      Most translation apps use one of three voice-recognition programmes. With the odd exception, the three that are used are Microsoft, Google or Nuance voice-recognition engines. These are teamed with specific language translation software to build the app.

      Some apps are available for free and others must be paid for – some of these are cheap and others heavier on your pocket. As with most things, you get what you pay for. The more sophisticated apps come with a higher price tag but have superior functionality, user interfaces and overall performance.

      What type of app you decide on is down to what you need it to do. You don’t want to choose an app that’s not up to the job but, at the same time, it’s pointless paying for features that you’ll never use.

      To help you decide on the best app, let’s take a look at your choices:

      Free apps for translation

      There are plenty of free apps out there worth considering for both Android and iPhone. However, if pinpoint accuracy, translating more than words and phrases or security are priorities for you, we would advise you to think carefully before using a free app. If you decide to go for a free translation app, Google Translate is one of the big players to check out, but there are many more to consider.

      Read more: Read our list of the top ten free translation apps

      Translation apps for Android

      If you’re looking for an app for your Android phone, make sure you think about what languages you need it to translate and where you’ll be using the app. If you don’t have an app that can translate offline, data connection and data roaming charges could be a problem, depending on the terms of your mobile-phone contract.

      Offline Translator offers translations between eight languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Turkish, Bulgarian and Chinese. As the name suggests, it can work offline. It has a relatively low price-tag - £5.99 at the date of this publication – and has some handy extra features. It offers photo translation, automatic language detection and a built-in dictionary.

      Read more: Read our list of the top ten translation apps for Android

      Translation apps for iPhone

      There are hundreds of iPhone apps to choose between, some free and some that you have to pay for. Make sure you check that the features of the app cover what you need before making a decision. Many of the apps enable you to install them for free but you will need to make in-app purchases for anything other than the most basic use.

      One of the best iPhone apps is Translator App for iPhone. It’s accurate (for an app) and has an impressive list of features. Among other capabilities, it works as a voice translator and can also convert text to speech. Like Offline Translator for Android, Translator App for iPhone can be used offline, which makes it far less prone to letting you down on the move or in areas that have a poor mobile signal. This app has more than 90 languages, a dictionary and a useful phrasebook included.

      Read more: Read our list of the top ten translation apps for iPhone

      What are the drawbacks?


      On the whole, accuracy is still the biggest complaint when it comes to using translation apps. As well as problems translating voices with strong accents, background noise can cause problems. For example, you could run into difficulties if you’re trying to get a quick translation to help you order food in a busy, noisy restaurant.

      Less commonly used words are more likely to be mistranslated, simply because the app hasn’t been able to learn enough about how to translate them. In formal situations – for example in an important meeting – be aware that sometimes translations can go wrong. Apps can deliver surprising results and might potentially cause embarrassment!

      They’re not human

      Apps aren’t capable of understanding the nuances that are inherent in many languages and cultures. Results are literal meanings; they don’t understand irony and have no sense of humour... yet. A lot of human communication involves subtleties, asides and references to information or events specific to the people having the conversation – your app won’t be able to do that. But, short of learning a new language entirely, it’s going to help you get your point across and understand what’s being said.

      They’re not babel fish

      Another big consideration is that you can’t yet use a translation app effectively for complicated or longer conversations; at least not without the risk of causing some frustration to the person you’re talking to. To get the best results from any translation app, you need to speak clearly and slowly, translating either just words or short sentences at a time.

      Translation apps are a far cry from the babel fish in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, which was dropped into your ear and instantly translated whole conversations in every language of the universe. Holding entire conversations with the speed of a native speaker is still not quite possible.

      Security problems

      In business, data-security breaches often cost more than money. They can seriously damage confidence in your organisation, losing you sales and the trust of your contacts. If data security is a priority for you, a mobile app may not be the best option to choose – especially a free one. Once you type or speak into your mobile, that information is processed on a server somewhere in the world. The privacy of your information is only as robust as the security of that server, and there are no guarantees it won’t be the target of a cyber-attack.

      If security is important, think about investing in a translation tool that uses reliable encryption for data transfers and offers guaranteed data security. Semantix' machine translation service offers a secure, cost-effective solution to your translation needs. Find out more about our secure MT and try it for free here.

      The take-away

      Apps for translation are increasingly capable as well as affordable and accessible to all. They have opened doors that enable easier global communication than ever before. Whether for business or pleasure, having a mini translator in your pocket is always handy. There are many free and low-cost apps out there but remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch and these apps aren’t without their drawbacks.

      Our advice is to research the apps that offer the best overall performance using our Top Ten List for Android and Top Ten List for iPhone. Check out the features each app has to offer, the price and the language options available, so you can make the right choice for your needs.

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