Wednesday, 30 May 2012 14:00
A few months ago, I found myself standing in a Taiwanese pharmacy, urgently miming to a perplexed pharmacist.
Had I not been in such a panic at that moment, my hysterical charades in that Taichung City pharmacy probably would have been funny. (I’m pretty sure my little routine looked hilarious to innocent bystanders.) However, at the time, it could have been a matter of life or death.
Using hand gestures only, I was trying to explain that I suffer from a severe seafood allergy, that I may have just accidentally ingested some and that I needed medication, just in case. A rather tricky feat to accomplish without any working knowledge of Mandarin.
Mercifully, an English-speaking local overheard me, swooped to my rescue by kindly stepping in as my translator, and I was promptly assisted.
Even though I can laugh about it now, it made me realise that I never want to be in such a situation again. Yes, that is why phrasebooks exist, but even those are not much help if you don’t know how to pronounce the words (in fact, mispronunciation can sometimes lead to severe misunderstandings, which is why it’s best to sometimes not even try.). Nor will a phrasebook be of much help if the person you are trying to communicate with is illiterate.
I have since discovered the Tra.duc.tor app. Developed by NA-AT Technologies, the app enables users to type in a word or phrase in English or another language, and translate into any of the available languages, including Arabic, Dutch and French.
Phrases or words translated from English to Chinese will appear in Chinese characters. As will Arabic. Luckily you can also listen to audio of the word or phrase and play it to your intended audience to hear, or try and say it yourself. (Except, for some reason, I did not get the option to listen to the Arabic, merely to copy the characters for the word to my phone’s clipboard.)
In order to test the accuracy of the app, I promptly tried one of the few Chinese phrases I managed to learn and wrap my tongue around during my stint in Taiwan. “I am from South Africa”. Tra.duc.tor immediately brought up the phrase written in Chinese and then I could listen to the audio. It was correct!
I tried my mother language, Afrikaans, as well. As you can see from the before and after screen shots, when I tried translating it into English, Tra.duc.tor gave it to me unchanged. When I clicked to listen to the audio, the American woman offered me a comical pronunciation, saying “Ek” (the word for “I”) as “E” and “K”. Very funny indeed!
To be fair, Afrikaans is not on the list of languages available on the app, so Tra.duc.tor can’t be judged too harshly for messing up.
All in all, I think it is useful for frequent travellers or for students of any foreign language - provided that the language you need to translate is on Tra.duc.tor’s list!
This app was reviewed using a BlackBerry Bold 9790, courtesy of BlackBerry South Africa.
Good: It’s free (unless you try to use it while travelling, then roaming will cost you!) and seems to be accurate when translating phrases to and from the languages on the list. It is big on the fun factor for those of us who love linguistics.
Bad: Some native speakers of other languages have complained in the reviews that the accuracy of the app is dubious. Therefore not recommended for CEOs in the throes of negotiating a crucial international business merger, or major contract. But it should be more than sufficient for the average tourist. Note that your BlackBerry has to have BIS activated, because the app needs to access the Internet to function, so once again, watch out for roaming when using it abroad. Audio playback of translations is not always available.
Download: BlackBerry App World link.
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