Whether browsing through the latest technology news, following the exploits of your favorite musician or film star or looking up exotic holiday destinations, chances are you will bump into a language that's not your own. Thanks to online translation services, most of us can usually get the gist of what's going on, but there are occasions when typing a word into a translation box is just not convenient. Penpower Technology has an alternative solution in the form of an application that uses the camera on the iPhone and Google's translation service to offer instant word translation and definition.

The Worldictionary app allows iPhone 3GS/4 owners with iOS 4.2 or later and a network connection to point the device's camera at a word on a street sign, book, restaurant menu, online newspaper or website written in one of the supported languages and engage a View and Translate feature to get access to its meaning. The app automatically recognizes the language and works both as a dictionary and thesaurus.

The current version of the app translates between traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean, French, Germany, Italian, and Spanish but is also said to be capable of taking any word from those nine languages and translating it into any of over 50 other languages.

Worldictionary automatically saves searches to allow you to build a custom dictionary or to make translation even quicker and offers the facility to learn more about a word's usage in language. A photo needs to be taken of the text and the word highlighted, the app will then reveal etymology, phonetics, synonyms and other valuable information. Words can also be entered manually using an onscreen keyboard.

Like the World Lens augmented reality app, Worldictionary's word-by-word approach is by no means perfect. It doesn't offer the same translation potential and power as the Quicktionary TS Premium pen-based solution from Wizcom Technologies, for instance, but it is much cheaper and makes use of something many of us already have – a smartphone.

The app is available now from the iTunes store for US$4.99.