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Iphone Translator App

Iphone Translator App is the future of language learning OAXACA, Mexico- Everyone looked amazed as a traveler from Perth fumbled with a bag of potato chips and a smart phone. It looked as if he was photographing it, no, he was translating it. This traveler was equipped with an Iphone that had a translator app [...]

Iphone Translator App is the future of language learning

OAXACA, Mexico- Everyone looked amazed as a traveler from Perth fumbled with a bag of potato chips and a smart phone. It looked as if he was photographing it, no, he was translating it. This traveler was equipped with an Iphone that had a translator app built into it, and the thing could translate just about any language into English just from hovering it over the offending words. I joined the crowd and I too looked on amazed.

On the LCD screen of his Iphone was the bag of chips as normal — it appeared as if he was going to snap a photo of it — only the Spanish words from the bag were in English on the phone. A simple hover was all this phone needed to translate, and it not only got the words right but it also keep the colors and formatting of the text as they were on the bag of chips. Basically, this app is able to capture an image of something, identify foreign words, translate them, and then insert near perfectly formatted English words in their place.

The Perth traveler then hovered his phone over a pack of cigarettes. “It works really well on cigarettes,” he said.

The crowd ooo’ed and ahhh’ed as the Spanish warnings on the cigarette pack were mysteriously transformed into English.

Iphone translator app

I felt like a bushman staring up into the sky at an airplane for the first time. I have no idea the last time I have been amazed by any new technology. This translator seemed to be performing a magical act before me: shape shifting Spanish words into English while keeping the rest of the image pretty much unaltered. How could it do this?

I have no idea.

But I have seen the future of traveler communication. With one of these phones decked out with this app, a traveler can go just about anywhere and communicate through the written word with just about any literate person. All it take is hovering the phone over some unknown words, and the translation is immediately generated.

I suppose it is common for humans to create machines to make life easier for us — to remove our need to learn, think, and do — but this translator app goes over the edge. It was one thing to need to look up words in a foreign language dictionary, it was another to have to type in a word to get a translation, but to just hover a phone over some foreign words and immediately get them translated into your language is truly a step beyond.

Filed under: Language, Mexico, North America, Technology

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3548 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • Christy @ Technosyncratic January 25, 2011, 7:17 pm

    This sounds AWESOME. I can only imagine how useful it would be for menus, or street markers, or any sign that you have no idea what it says. There’s definitely something to be said for surviving in a country where you don’t know any of the language (after those experiences, you feel like you can handle just about anything!), but I can think of way too many occasions when this app would have been hugely useful.

    Crazy what technology can do these days…

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 25, 2011, 8:09 pm

      It truly was. I almost want to get one haha. But I suppose I am still a bit of an old fashioned traveler and use a notebook for language learning purposes haha. But, yes, this translator app could be real helpful, especially since it is built into a device that you use for many other purposes too, so you could be justified in always having it with you.

      Thanks for the comment.

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  • Bob L January 25, 2011, 7:39 pm

    Even this part time Luddite is impressed. Character recognition, followed by translation is not a big thing, but the way this app does it is pretty damned cool.

    I wonder how this works on odd characters like Thai or Chinese? How about street signs? ( I would think pretty good). Almost makes me want to get a smart phone. Almost.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 25, 2011, 8:04 pm

      Yes, I was truly blown away. I am even more impressed with this translator now that you are too, knowing your Luddite tendencies haha. It is truly impressive how it scrabbles around the letters but keeps the formatting and text the same. When I saw it I am pretty sure my jaw dropped. I have seen lots of real stupid and useless apps for these phones, but this one was truly amazing.

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  • Dyanne @TravelnLass January 25, 2011, 11:29 pm

    Uh, so where do I get one of these hummers – can’t seem to find it in the ITunes app store. ;(

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 26, 2011, 10:48 am

      I have no idea. But there has to be some way to download it from somewhere.

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  • David Jacobs January 26, 2011, 12:54 am

    Google translate is currently working on their translate conversation mode. A spanish english version was already released (not perfect), and they will eventually cover all 53 languages (and more) currently covered with the text translate. This technology should eventually be available on all Android phones, meaning your smartphone should be able to translate many real conversations in many languages to you in real time… And offcourse back to the other party… Nifty!

    David 🙂

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 26, 2011, 11:02 am

      That is really interesting. Pretty soon we are going to have these little ear pieces that can translate language without much delay so we don’t even need to push buttons on a phone and can just have a normal conversation to anyone in the world with an ear piece.

      And I’ve spent all of this time learning language!

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  • David Jacobs January 26, 2011, 1:18 am Link Reply
    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 26, 2011, 10:57 am

      THAT is truly amazing.

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  • T-roy January 26, 2011, 5:18 pm

    So no one knows the name of the app on the iTunes store for it… come on man, you tell us but didn’t tell us where we can get it! jajaja I just got an iTouch today and I leave for India in a week… would kill to have this, as i’ll be in South America after India.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 26, 2011, 9:25 pm

      Haha sorry man, I asked the guy but I am unsure if he even knew what exactly the name of it was.

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  • Jim January 27, 2011, 1:09 am


    I think it is Word Lens.
    Their site says “Additional Languages
    We are working on them! We’re starting out with European languages and will expand from there. We won’t stop until we get all the way across the globe!”


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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 27, 2011, 8:33 am


      This will come in real handy for a lot of people.

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  • Dayton January 28, 2011, 12:04 am

    This is the traveller from Perth, I recognize those hands in the photo 🙂
    Luke the traveling Kiwi sent me the link.

    Jim is correct, it is Word Lens… It only does Spanish to English OR vice versa in separately priced language packs. Which rather crimps the ability to show it off now I am back in Oz and can never find anything written in Spanish 😉 I only bought Spanish to English.
    It’s pretty great, but really only good for short text, ideal for menus and such.

    Whats most impressive is the glimpse you get using it into where it could lead in the future with full text translation and less choppiness when phones get faster.


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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 31, 2011, 12:55 am

      Thanks Dayton, this is great that this got to you and you came on here. I really appreciate it. Many people seemed interested in this translator — it was truly amazing.

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  • Jesse February 8, 2011, 2:23 pm

    Not gonna replace human translators anytime soon (I hope). While I’m sure it is really useful in a pinch, I would love to see some of the mistakes it makes!

    For example: http://www.world-time-zones.org/articles/translation.htm

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 8, 2011, 2:50 pm

      Right on, it does make mistakes. Would be real funny for the voice activated one. I agree, I think you will keep your job at least for the short run haha.

      That was an incredibly funny article that you linked to. Had Chaya and I laughing.

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  • David Jacobs February 9, 2011, 4:16 am

    Google translation ‘app’ hits iPhone
    February 8, 2011 Google Translate for iPhone uses the same technology as a version released last month for desktop computers

    Google software that turns iPhones into interpreters became available at Apple’s online App Store on Tuesday.


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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 11, 2011, 2:06 pm

      Cool, good addition. Thanks.

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