As someone whose first language is not English, I often find myself wishing for built-in translation on Safari. While it would be rather nice if Apple added native translation to iOS, there are many super-quick ways to convert pour la plupart to for the most part.
I must warn you against blindly trusting the translations you receive using these tools. These translations are based on algorithms that know very little about grammar or context. You will be able to understand a paragraph or what a person is trying to say, but these tools won’t work as well as Star Trek’s universal translator or the Babel fish from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
But until science fiction becomes reality, these are the best ways to translate text on your iPhone and iPad.
If you are browsing the Web via Safari, Bing (iPhone or iPad) is the probably best way to translate text in a flash. By adding one of our favourite iOS extensions, Bing allows you to translate websites on Safari without opening a separate app.
First you’ll need to install Bing for your device, then open Safari and tap the Share icon. Swipe left on the row just above the Cancel button, tap More and enable “Bing Translator” from the list. You should drag it to any of the top four positions in this list for quicker access.
Now open any non-English website, tap the Share icon and tap Bing Translator. The website you are looking at will be translated instantly. This is the fastest method of translating websites on your mobile device. If you use Google Chrome on iOS, you don’t need an extension – the browser automatically prompts you to translate the page using Google Translate.
Workflow ($4.99) is a powerful app that lets you create your own iOS extensions. If you’re feeling nerdy you can create an extension for translation or do it the easy way by downloading this Google Translate workflow. It opens the translated page in a new tab whereas Bing’s extension instantly changes the content in the same tab to English. This extension is not as fast as Bing Translator, but it’s the easiest way to use Google’s translation engine with Safari.
The extensions mentioned above work very well when you want to translate webpages, but they don’t allow you to quickly translate text you’ve selected or copied. That’s where iTranslate comes in, with its handy Notification Centre widget.
Once you have downloaded the app, swipe down from the top of the screen reveal Notification Centre. Tap Today at the top, scroll to the bottom and tap Edit. Hit the green plus “+” next to iTranslate. This will add it to the Today view in the Notification Centre.
Now select text you want to translate from any app and copy it. Pull down the Notification Centre and tap Translate Clipboard in the iTranslate widget you just added. The widget will now show you the translation.
Slated Keyboard ($4.99)
Extensions or widgets are not the best translation tools if you’re trying to have a conversation. To converse with someone who doesn’t speak English, you need third-party keyboards. Mark has previously covered Slated Keyboard ($4.99), which works very well. Head over to his article for step-by-step instructions for setting up the keyboard on your iOS device. Slated uses Google Translate for translation. It’s good enough for short texts, but not much more.
I saved the best iOS translation app for last because Google Translate does everything you could ever want from a translation app. It can translate text, speech, and text in photos too. The latest update to Google Translate’s iOS app added two cool features – automatic language detection in speech mode and the ability to translate text from photos.
If you love writing by hand, it has a handwriting mode for you. I was very impressed by the app’s ability to recognise cursive handwriting even though Google’s translation algorithms are not quite perfect. It also makes copying text really easy – just tap and hold to copy. Given how well the app works, it’s a shame that it doesn’t (yet) have a Today widget or Bing-like extension.
Speaking Your Language
Each of these methods will allow you to translate text on your iPhone or iPad, but there isn’t one single method that will suit every situation. If you find yourself visiting a foreign country, living abroad or regularly in need of translation services, then you might want to consider setting a few of these up so they’re ready to go when you need them.
What do you use to translate text on your iPhone or iPad?