If you're traveling beyond the land of your mother tongue, it's smart and safe (not to mention polite) to have a grasp of the basic building blocks of a foreign language -- the simple words and phrases you'll find on road signs and restaurant menus.
Now a real-time translation app can help even the most linguistically and technologically challenged traveler feel like a native. Best of all, right now it's free.
It works like this: Download the app for the iOS, Android or Google Glass operating systems, along with one or more of the language packs, which include Spanish, French, English, Italian, Russian and Portuguese.
Launch the app, choose the direction of translation (for example, German to English or English to German), point your device's camera at the text to be translated and the translation immediately (and in our opinion, mind-blowingly) appears on the screen.
It's such a great on-the-fly travel translation crutch we almost hate to point out that there is a learning curve for getting the best results. It works best with plain dark text against an uncluttered white background (a Lonely Planet bumper sticker in the office yielded the best test results) but not as well with more stylized script.
And if your hand is shaky or there's a logo in the mix, translations can bounce around a bit.
Those tiny blips might be worth complaining about if you were shelling out $4.99 for the 4-year-old app (extra for each language pack) but Quest Visual, developer of Word Lens, is offering the app for free for a limited time.
A message posted to Word Lens' website reads, in part: "As a thank you to everybody who supported us on our journey, we've made both the app and the language packs free to download for a limited time while we transition to Google," which recently purchased the company.