English Only? Use Translation Gadgets to Speak Different Languages

Why study verbs when you can use Bluetooth

Key Takeaways

  • The Ambassador is a new gadget that translates different languages nearly simultaneously.
  • The $179 device detects and automatically translates any spoken word it hears within 8 feet in 20 languages and 42 individual dialects.
  • The nifty-looking Pocketalk Plus translator claims to translate between 82 languages and sports a touchscreen interface.
The Ambassador earbud translators resting on a table
Sascha Brodsky / Lifewire

"Ich bin ein Berliner," I said the other day, and despite my terrible German accent, I was understood. 

I don’t speak German, but could converse in the language thanks to a new translating gadget that fits in your ear. The Ambassador ($179) detects and automatically translates any spoken word it hears within 8 feet in 20 languages and 42 individual dialects.

In practice, the Ambassador listens to the words, and then transcribes them to text in its associated iOS or Android smartphone app. The gadget ships with two earpieces so you can each wear an Ambassador and carry on a near real-time conversation. The company says that up to four Ambassadors can be wirelessly tethered to a single smartphone, allowing groups of people speaking different languages to chat. 

Lightweight and Fluent

You also can connect the Ambassador to a speaker system, letting you speak and take questions from an audience. The company claims you can expect around six hours of operation per charge, and I found that was backed up with real-life use. 

The actual Ambassador units are very light and come with clips that keep them attached to the outside of your ear. I’m no germaphobe, but I was happy to see the Ambassador has an over-the-ear form factor, as I wouldn’t be too delighted sharing earbuds with strangers.

I wasn’t able to test out all of the languages available with the Ambassador, but I was able to have several conversations in German, and the Ambassador had no problem understanding anything that was said. The microphones picked up conversations in the room easily and produced translations with very little lag time. 

The Ambassador’s modest appearance and relatively low price tag belie its incredible capabilities. The ability to translate conversations automatically is a long-sought dream. I’ve toted foreign language dictionaries around the world, frantically looking up words when necessary. 

Translation Competition

The Ambassador is far from the only game in town when it comes to translation options. In recent years, Google Translate has become the go-to translator for many people. The app offers text translation between 108 languages by typing, and you also can translate text into images by just pointing your camera. 

Microsoft’s Translator offers similar capabilities to its Google counterpart. The app claims to be able to translate text into 90 languages and dialects. You can speak two languages into one on your smartphone or tablet for one-on-one conversations, and you can translate the text in photos with the app's built-in camera viewer or upload saved pictures from your gallery.

There’s also the nifty-looking Pocketalk Plus translator. The smartphone-sized device claims to translate between 82 languages and sports a touchscreen interface. The Pocketalk has a camera that allows you to read text by pointing the camera, much like the Google Translate app. It also can convert currency, length, width, and temperature.

The Pocketalk doesn’t require a phone connection, unlike the Ambassador. While it can connect to Wi-Fi, it also comes with a pre-installed SIM that allows it to work in 130 countries, though that involves a two-year LTE data plan. Keep in mind that the Pocketalk is also considerably more expensive than the Ambassador at $329.

Pockettalk Plus translator in silver, grey, and gold

If you want a device that translates, but looks discrete, there’s the WT2 Plus AI Realtime Translator Earbuds. These $239.99 earbuds look like a cross between Apple AirPods and one of those old fashioned Bluetooth ear clips. It claims to perform simultaneous translations up to 50% faster than competitors. 

I can’t wait for the world to get back to a place where in-person translators are needed. I’m hoping to travel internationally this year and give these translation gadgets a real test.

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