The Most Useful Translation Apps When Exploring Japan

While you might brush up on some common Japanese phrases before you head to Japan, you’ll probably run into a couple of situations where communication barriers seem nearly impossible to overcome. 

If you have a trusted translation app with you on your smartphone, it’ll help you so much when you need to ask a local for help or directions and you just don’t know what to say or how to get your meaning across. 

Google Translate

Google Translate is a well-known application that you can download on your smartphone regardless of which operating system you use.

One of the features of this app that is most appealing is its ability to translate different Japanese writing systems

You are also able to speak into your phone, and Google Translate will listen and help translate whatever is being said back to you. It can also read out the translation you are asking for, in case you have trouble pronouncing something. 

Google Translate App On Google Play

Google Translate Via Apple Store

Since Google Translate can read various Japanese letterings, it’ll come in handy when you see a sign or document written with Japanese lettering. You can take a photo of the text and Google Translate will help you translate it. 

You might notice with Google Translate that a lot of their translations are verbatim, as it can’t read the context.

Therefore, your wording might be a little bit off, but chances are the person you are communicating with will be impressed that you are at least trying to communicate with them. 

Bravolol Japanese Dictionary 

Bravolol’s Japanese Dictionary app is not just a dictionary, but an excellent resource for those who aren’t super familiar with Japanese yet and want to learn a little bit about different Japanese phrases and ways of speaking beyond just knowing how to say them. 

Bravolol Japanese App Official Website

Along with thousands of Japanese words and phrases in their expansive inventory, you are also able to see whether or not a said word is considered formal or informal language in Japan. You also get to see examples of how those words or phrases are used. 

Being able to understand the context of popular sayings, as well as when to use certain words in certain situations can be helpful to avoid any potential social blunders.

That being said, the majority of natives in Japan will generally understand that you are trying to learn the language and won’t hold those types of mistakes against you. 

There is also a feature to listen to spoken Japanese words and get a translation. You are also able to listen to how Japanese words are pronounced properly so you can get a little bit of practice for words you know you are going to say often. 

You can access all of these features without needing to use any internet, and the app is available on either Android or iOS operating systems. 

Xung Le Offline Japanese English Translator, Bilingual Sentences

This is a handy app to have on your phone, as you’ll be able to use it anywhere since it does not require internet access.

The app is filled with a lot of simple words and phrases that you will probably find yourself using very often in casual conversations. There are also prompts to start easy conversations with people and ways to ask for help.

It will help you brush up on your Japanese skills by translating text for you. You’re also able to listen to the Japanese word or phrase being spoken so you can practice your translation as well. 

You can also get assistance with asking common questions you might have when navigating around Japan. 

Xung Le App Via Apple Store

You won’t necessarily learn how to string together elaborate sentences or become a grammar expert but you’ll have a trusted source of translation and common words you might need to use for any situation you might be in. 

Jisho 

Jisho is a great app option for those who are wanting to learn Japanese, and not just translate while traveling.

Jisho App Via Apple App Store

It is technically a dictionary app, but it will help you translate words and phrases while also learning about Japanese grammar. 

Jisho App Via Google Play

There is also a voice option with Jisho that will pick up words and phrases and give you the spelling and translation for those words. Furthermore, you can also refine your kanji lettering skills using the draw function. 

Excite Japan Co’s Japanese Translation

This translation app was developed by a Japanese company to assist people when it comes to communicating in Japanese, but it will also teach you a lot about the Japanese language and how it differs from other languages.

Excite Japan App Via Apple Store

This app is actually pretty popular in Japan, for natives and those living there and still learning the language. 

One really cool thing that you can use this app for, and part of the reason it’s recommended for those who want to learn the language, is it lets you retranslate phrases and sentences you have already translated so you can see if the translation was accurate.

Regardless of how sophisticated a translating app is, there will still be some things lost in translation. 

iTranslate Voice Lite

This app was developed by Sonico, but only works for an iPhone unfortunately. However, it’s a must-try app for those with an Apple phone, considering how well it can translate Japanese, as well as many other languages. 

It does also cost money (there is a free version as well), so it may not be worth it if you are traveling for a short amount of time.

iTranslate Via Apple Store

It is really good at listening to conversations that you want to be translated, so you can speak with someone who is fluent in Japanese, record it, and have it translated back to you in your language, and vice versa. 

The translation you get back can be listened to or read, so you can hear how the words are pronounced, or just see it on the screen. 

Tangorin

Tangorin is both a dictionary and translating app which is ideal if you want to understand Japanese more thoroughly while you are making your way around the country.

Tangorin Via Google Play

Furthermore, if you’re looking to learn how to write in Japanese, you are able to clearly see how to draw Japanese letters and characters. 

A draw to this app, in particular, would be the thorough and carefully refined grammar tools that will show you how to say or write the word in different Japanese writing systems, as well as give you sample sentences to help you understand how to use the word in the right context. 

PapaGo 

PapaGo is a translation app that can help you translate Japanese text and photos with Japanese text. It will also listen to your voice or someone else’s voice and translate it from one language to another. 

PapaGo Via Apple Store

One cool thing about using this app is it can actually listen to your conversation back and forth between two people and translate as you talk.

This can be really helpful as it will save you a lot of time when you are trying to have a short conversation with someone but don’t want to keep having to type words in. 

PapaGo Via Google Play

You will need to have access to the internet with this app, however. The app does not cost anything to download and it works with any type of smartphone. 

Some Tips For Selecting A Japanese Translation App 

An app that is able to translate text from photos can be especially helpful when traveling through Japan. A lot of signage and hotspots for tourists will have Japanese lettering and non-Japanese lettering, but there will still most likely be certain things that only use Japanese characters.

In these scenarios, being able to take a photo of the text you need to be translated will help you tremendously, so you don’t have to ask someone to help you read it all the time. 

As previously mentioned, there is no app out there that will get things perfect all the time. Therefore, you might want to test out a couple to see what you like.

Everyone has their own preference when it comes to how apps function, and thankfully, many of these apps offer free versions so you don’t have to purchase before testing the app. 

It’s also important to know that while a translation app can help you pick up certain words and phrases, you won’t be able to accurately learn the entire Japanese language by simply using a translation app. 

You also want to look for a translator that has the ability to read “romanji” lettering, especially if you do not know how to read Japanese lettering. There is no use in an app that is meant to help you communicate that you cannot read.

Langogo Genesis Portable Language Translator Device

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.