There is nothing quite as embarrassing as going to a foreign country and not understanding a word of what anyone else is saying. One of my favorite personal incidents was trying repeatedly to push my way out the door of a small bakery I had stopped in. Clearly, what looked like "push" was actually pull. It could have been worse -- I could have walked into the men's room thinking that it was for ladies. Thankfully I ran into some English speakers who helped me out on my journey. Now, if I had remembered to bring along my trusty pocket translator with me I would have had a much easier time.
There are different types of electronic dictionaries and translators: monolingual, bilingual, and multilingual. But first, what is the difference between the two?
Electronic Dictionary vs. Electronic Translator
Which do you choose?
* Beginners, or those with no prior knowledge of the language(s) to be used usually need an electronic translator and not a dictionary. They are often the preferred device for travelers. They are also useful if you work in the civil service sector, security, or any other occupation which requires interacting with people who may or may not speak English. Instead of playing charades, you have quick and easy communication help at your fingertips.
** Translators offer easily organized thematic subjects (such as hotel, restaurant, airport, etc.) for finding commonly used expressions or phrases.
** Each expression is usually accompanied with a pronunciation guide.
** Some models offer a search enhanced by phonetic spelling recognition, so if you hear a word, but you don't know the proper spelling because you are unfamiliar with the language's alphabet, you can still find the word you need to translate.
* Those experienced with the basics of the language they wish to decipher are best off with an electronic dictionary. This usually means that you have either studied the language or that you are currently studying the language. It may also mean that you are already a speaker of that language.
** Dictionaries give a quick and easy way to find the word you need.
** The database has a wide range of words and instead of focusing on offering lists of helpful travel phrases.
Monolingual, Bilingual, and Multilingual
What's the difference between these models and why choose one type over the other?
* Monolingual Dictionaries
** Essentially this is a hardbound dictionary turned digital, giving you a lightweight, portable, yet comprehensive dictionary to take with you on the go.
** Good for both intermediate or advanced students and professionals.
** Used either for a native language or for one which you have already been studying for awhile.
** These models have the largest number of entries out of all electronic dictionary/translator models.
* Bilingual Dictionaries
** Picture your Spanish/English dictionary in digital. Lightweight, but functional, and full-featured.
** Perfect for people who have experience studying a foreign language.
** Not suited for travellers planning to visit many countries with different spoken languages.
** Database is usually expandable.
** Bidirectional models are preferred so that you can search for words in either of the languages.
* Multilingual Dictionaries/Multilingual Translators
** Ideal for a multi-country trip or for those who plan on taking a few trips to different countries at different times.
** Perfect for backpacking in Europe or study abroad.
** Most models have a limited number of dictionary entries to accommodate all the most necessary words and phrases from many languages.
** Not recommended for serious language students.
Features, Extras, Formats
* '''Talking Translators'''
** Translators often have a voice translation along with a visual translation. However, talking translators with voice recognition tend to cost about twice as much as non-talking models.
** Very useful for travellers.
** If you have the money, it is helpful for beginning language students.
* '''Multifunction Devices'''
** Additional features tend to come standard in some shape or form: alarm clock, world clock, currency converter, size conversions, planner, address book, calculator, business organizers, etc.
** Only look specifically for extra features if you know that you will really want and need them; otherwise, you are just wasting your money.
** PC connectivity (Windows-based, not Mac in most cases) may be a useful feature if you plan to use your translator/dictionary as a multifunction device and you want to synchronize calendars, contact lists, etc.
** Some use a flash memory card to exchange information, while others depend on a cable (such as USB) or even infrared technology.
** Most come in folding versions (clamshell style) which keeps the keys and screen safe. These are the least expensive styles available, they can be found for under $50.
** PDA style devices are also available. They usually have LCD touchscreens that you operate with a stylus pen. They tend to be more expensive, though.
** Pen-like text scanners can pick up written text from any printed document and then translate the results onto a small LCD screen. Some models even speak the results. Some may also allow manual word entry via an "OptiCard".
** The most expensive and multi-purpose model available comes in the form of a smartphone. Check out this smartphone buying guide to learn more about them.