Electronic Dictionaries and Translators

Anyone who travels to non-English speaking countries will find a pocket electronic dictionary and translator  to be a handy device. Similarly, students and professionals looking to quickly check an English spelling will be happy they have a basic electronic dictionary  with them. Compact and lightweight, these gadgets are becoming more and more sophisticated -- some include a currency converter and voice translation features. But with any electronic device, there are plenty of options and features. Read this buying guide to learn more about the different types of electronic dictionaries and translators on the market to find the device that will best suit your needs.

There are different types of electronic dictionaries  and translators : monolingual, bilingual, and multilingual. But first, what is the difference between the two?

Electronic Dictionary and Electronic Translator

Which should you choose?

  • Beginners or those with no prior knowledge of a foreign language usually need an electronic translator and not a dictionary. They are often the preferred device for travellers. 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 organised 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 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.
  • Connectivity
    • 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.
  • Design
    • Most come in folding versions (clamshell style) which keeps the keys and screen safe. These are the least expensive styles available, starting at around $130.
    • 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. Such translators cost around $700.

Some Brands Worth Looking Into

Search for Dictionaries and Translators by Language

Electronic Dictionaries 

Electronic Translators