The lowdown on language translation software

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What is it? Language translation software automatically generates translations of text from a source language to one or more target languages. Such products typically contain some type of translation engine, multiple dictionaries with words, expressions and idioms in various languages, and a friendly user interface.

How much does it cost? Two of the products in the accompanying chart are free and most cost less than $100. Depending on the sophistication of the translation engine and the size of a product's dictionaries, it can cost up to hundreds of dollars per pair of languages.

When do I need it? Whenever you are traveling to faraway places or as close to home as Los Angeles or Boston. If you are an English speaker only and want to view Web sites or other documents written in other languages, language translation software is easy to plug into your PC or handheld device. If you speak multiple languages but want to tune up your translations, a translation program could help. And if you live and work in a foreign country, such software could be essential.

Must-know info? Believe it or not, English isn't the world's dominant language. Slightly more than 5 percent of the world's people speak English as a first language, and about 7 percent use it as a second language.

Choose a product with a friendly interface'one that lets you customize dictionaries. And when using a translator, give it precise, simple sentences.

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