Portable Translators: Are they worth it?


Portable translators made their way into our pockets with the lofty promise of allowing us to travel the world and order our meals with the skill of a native speaker, but are they worth it?

Some of us are old enough to remember the electronic craze that came of age in the 80’s, and has been dominating the world ever since. Pocket calculators became a mandatory tool for every student out there, the CD replaced our beloved cassettes, and the personal computer was thrust into our homes and hooked up to the internet so we could revel in the eye-watering designs of those atrocious yet charming geocities websites.

Portable translators also made their way into our pockets during this technological hurricane, with the lofty promise of allowing us to travel the world and order our meals with the skill of a native speaker. As one might imagine, the translations were as dodgy as they came, in large part due to the fact that the Asian companies that built them were notorious for their rather odd handling of translation altogether. However, it’s also true that they could pull off single-word translations reasonably well, and as long as you didn’t plan to translate a doctoral thesis on particle physics, they did have some uses.

Nowadays, with online translation and a plethora of mobile apps that can do the job far better, it would be safe to assume that these quirky devices from a bygone era have been all but phased out, right?

Wrong. They are still around, and there are even 2018 models out and about. How they have managed to stay alive in today’s world is a complete mystery, and apart from improving their translation software, they don’t do anything a regular phone app can’t do. Manufacturers argue that phones need data connections to use the translation apps, and there are still many places in the world with poor coverage.

The main problem with that statement is that it’s a load of codswallop.  Plenty of apps work offline, and it really boils down to a sneaky marketing scheme to dupe unsuspecting customers into believing they might get stranded deep in the Amazonian rainforest without the ability to communicate fluidly with tribes yet untarnished by modern civilization.

The bottom line is that they are not worth it. Not by a long shot. Unless by Portable Translator they mean an actual buddy who happens to be a translator and doubles as a travelling pal, we might as well leave these trinkets where they belong: Gathering dust on the factory shelves.

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