Translating Technology
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Translating Technology

At a loss for words overseas?Ditch that dog-eared phrase book. These sleek devices use speech-recognition software and optical scanners to translate foreign languages in a flash.


Best for Business travelers, readers of foreign-language documents, spies
James Bond would want this gadget: a six-inch, three-ounce electronic highlighter that scans and translates full sentences of printed text into 20 foreign languages. The QuickLink may not be the fastest way to communicate, but it's perfect for translating material from a guidebook, menu, or hotel bill (and transferring it to your computer, PDA, or text-enabled cell phone). Be forewarned: you'll need plenty of time and patience to set the pen up. 888/777-0552;; $199


Best for Frequent travelers with some language mastery
This device can translate 60,000 words into 10 different languages, each at the touch of a button (separate language keys make going from Spanish to French to German a cinch). Not only does it pronounce words clearly but it spells them phonetically, transliterating from Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and other non-Western scripts. Just don't count on using the included headphones: the wires are only two inches long, so you'd have to have a head the size of a tennis ball to wear them. 877/546-4677;; $159.95


Best for Casual travelers who need only basic phrases to get by
Tired of text-only handhelds with tiny keys?You'll love the Ectaco's revolutionary speech-recognition technology. Attach the earpiece and speak any of 3,000 English phrases into the microphone to have it translated into Spanish, French, or German. You'll get a text interpretation and also hear pronunciation—via somewhat muffled audio from the mediocre speakers. One inch thick and just under four ounces, it literally fits in the palm of your hand. The machine comes with 14 easy-to-browse categories, including hotels, restaurants, shopping, and sightseeing. (Single-language devices—in English, Russian, and more—are also available.) 800/710-7920;; $249.95

Download This: Innovative New Software

Landware Small Talk
Best for Budget-minded Palm owners looking for simple phrase translations
If you already own a Palm-based PDA, this is the biggest bargain in portable translation. Installed the same way you'd load a game or spreadsheet program, Small Talk is an electronic phrase book that offers English, Spanish, French, Italian, and German in nine pre-loaded topics, including emergencies, business, and entertainment. Its bank of 500 phrases and likely responses saves you time, thanks to a log of your previous requests. 201/261-7944;; $19.95.

IBM ViaVoice Translator
Best for Technophiles who want to translate everything
IBM's program for the Compaq iPAQ handheld uses the speakers on new models to clearly articulate words and phrases. Choose among 50 pre-loaded sentences in English, Spanish, French, Italian, and German, or write your own with the PDA's stylus. The program can also translate e-mails or Web pages from your desktop PC. It's powered by IBM's machine translation technology, famous for catching contextual or grammatical quirks. 888/746-7426;; $48

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