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As a Brit in Greece who hasn’t picked up the modern Greek language as well as the three other foreign languages I speak, I use translation apps daily.
English is widely spoken here, particularly in tourist areas. So don’t be too daunted about visiting a country with a different language.
It’s still useful to have some tools on hand, though. So here are two apps that I use all the time, a third that others have recommended, plus other useful translation tips for you (because I’m nice like that.)
Good old Google comes in at the top of my list with their translate app and desktop site. The two are slightly different, and here’s what I like about both.
Google Translate App
If you’re visiting Greece as a tourist, the best ways to use the app are the voice translation and the lens function.
Voice translation is obviously helpful when you don’t speak the language and you’re trying to talk with someone who doesn’t speak English.
You can go back and forth using the app’s audio translation and usually get the general idea of what’s being said.
I’ve found this useful for communicating with people like taxi drivers or Airbnb accommodation hosts.
📲 If you want more app suggestions for travelling to Greece, I have another post about that.
Lens is where you use your phone’s camera to translate Greek text into English as you hover the camera over it.
It translates as you move the camera and shows English words over the top of the Greek. Sometimes, I don’t find it gives very accurate translations. However, if you keep the camera on it, it changes the English text to give alternative translations.
Sometimes, the first version doesn’t make sense, but then Google tries again. Sometimes the first version is right, and then it starts coming up with gobbledygook.
Obviously, in the English language, some words have several meanings. I guess artificial intelligence is doing the translations. So sometimes, it needs to try a few combinations to get the right meaning
I find this helpful for looking at things like food labels, written instructions or longer text like email. I can scan quickly and find the pertinent bits of information.
If you’re self-catering in Greece and need to avoid certain ingredients, you might like using this.
It’s useful because it can be tricky to type Greek words into the text translation feature.
When I first came to Greece, this tripped me up all the time.
If I was in Spain, for example (not that smartphones existed when I lived there!), I could type Spanish into the app using my normal Latin keyboard. But you can’t do that easily with Greek.
Now, I’m more familiar with the Greek alphabet and have it as an alternative keyboard on my phone. So I can type in what I see. But that’s not as straightforward when you’re just visiting.
If there’s text you can copy and paste into the app, you can do that without needing the Greek keyboard.
I generally find the translated text is good, I think it has improved over time. But don’t expect perfect translations. The app works best with context, so give a phrase or sentence rather than using it to translate words in isolation.
Sometimes the translations are too perfect and literal. Idiomatic expressions abound in Greek (as they do in English).
I’ve had my share of conversations with customer service agents that have gone back and forth on email, and at the end of it all, I still didn’t know what was happening with my purchase. The word-for-word translation didn’t help me understand the Greek idioms.
Google Translate Desktop Site
I don’t find the text translation here as good as the app, only in the sense that it seems to accept fewer characters at a time. Which means it’s more of a faff to translate longer bits of text.
However, I recently saw they had some features I don’t remember being available previously. Namely, these are the ability to upload documents and images or to input a web address to see the website translated into English.
I’ve had a quick play, and they seem pretty good, although I’m not sure how secure it is for documents and data privacy. So, be mindful of that.
Another free online tool is Translator EU. It uses the Microsoft translator, and it’s one that others have recommended as an alternative to Google Translate.
People tell me they tend to get higher-quality translations. But for me, it’s not as pretty as the Google interface and as far as I’m aware, it’s only on my desktop, so I keep forgetting about it. Have a look into it for yourself, though.
Photo Translator App
This is another Greek-to-English translation tool that I use a lot. If I want to read something like a sign/poster or product label, a quick way can be to take a picture of it and upload it here.
As with the lens feature in Google Translate, it changes the Greek text into English. Again, it’s very literal, and sometimes you have to work out what it means. But I’ve certainly found it very helpful as a free Greek English translator app.
Look for this icon in the app store
The free translation option has a daily limit of three images per day. After that, you need to pay, watch a long ad, or use the Google Translate app.
Google Chrome and Websites
A lot of Greek websites have the option of viewing them in Greek or English. Look for the UK flag (occasionally the US one) or GR | EN to toggle between the languages. Sometimes these are in the menu, and sometimes in the site footer.
If you use Google Chrome as your browser, it will automatically translate Greek web pages into English. That’s super helpful, especially when the site doesn’t have an English version.
However, where it does, that’s usually the most accurate translation. Chrome is very literal, but the site’s English translation uses more native language.
Greek Social Media Post Translation
If you’re following Greek social media accounts, then Instagram usually gives you the option to see the translation via a link next to the date at the bottom of the caption. See the example below on ANIMA’s FB page (they help wildlife in Greece.)
Some Facebook page owners switch on the translate option so a translated version automatically appears below the original.
Again, with this, the translation can be a bit iffy. But some page owners really helpfully write the caption in both languages and state at the top that e.g, English follows below.
Important Document Translation
Just a note to say that if you have official documents, like legal documents, I wouldn’t use an online translation tool. Of course, they can be fine for a first look and might give you a good idea of what the documents say.
But if high-quality translations are crucial, then I’d hire a professional translator. A Greek-to-English translator will have the language skills to make natural-sounding translations.
To find the best Greek translator in your area, I’d ask for personal recommendations from people in relevant Facebook groups.
Alternatively, search for Greek translation services on Google Maps and read reviews that others have left.
Part of the fun of travel is seeing and hearing a foreign language. Embrace the cultural difference and enjoy it.
Remember that much of communication is done through facial expressions and gestures, so don’t get too caught up with translation software.