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Learning a Language? There's an App for That!

When you’re trying to learn a new language, practice makes perfect.  How many times have you said to yourself, “I would love to learn another language in my spare time?” Since many of us lead very busy lives, finding that spare time to practice and learn can be challenging. However, if you have a smartphone, there are plenty of apps available that give you the opportunity to practice on the go.

Here’s a list of some of the better apps available for the iPhone, Blackberry and Android devices:

•    WordPower (iPhone and Android): WordPower helps you learn new vocabulary in one of several   languages, teaching you the “core” 2000 words most important words you need to communicate. You can read foreign vocabulary, listen to native pronunciation, then give it a go yourself. You can also record yourself to see how your pronunciation measures up.
•    24/7 Tutor (iPhone): Learn Spanish, French, Italian or German with this collection of iPhone apps. Learn vocabulary, listen to native speakers and track your progress with quizzes.
•    Byki (iPhone): According to their website, Byki helps you learn a new language especially quickly because it “hacks” into your memory and fills it with foreign words and phrases.” Interesting…
•    GidRapid (Blackberry): GidRapid makes language learning apps for the Blackberry in a variety of different European languages, featuring flash cards, word lists and quizzes.
•    CardLingo Language Flash Cards (Android): This app lets you type in new words and phrases as you learn them, then turns them into flash cards that you can review anywhere.

There are so many apps for iPhone, Android and Blackberry that this list doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s available.

So, next time you’re waiting in line somewhere, why not find an app you like and start learning another language?

New iPhone App Translates Images in Real-Time

If you’ve ever been to another country and struggled with reading signs and menus, a new iPhone app called Word Lens might be just what the doctor ordered. Word Lens is an augmented reality app that can actually translate text seen through your iPhone’s camera. Just turn on the app and hold up the phone so that the text you want to translate appears on your iPhone camera’s viewfinder, and Word Lens will pick out the words, translate them for you and display the translation right on your iPhone’s screen.

The app itself is free, but all the free version does is let you play with or erase text on images seen through your iPhone camera.  The actual English-to-Spanish dictionary that gives the app its translation capabilities is $4.99.

Even better, the app doesn’t have to be connected to the Internet to do this.  So, it’ll work even in areas where you have no signal and you don’t have to worry that using the app while you travel will result in obscenely high cell phone bills.  $4.99 is definitely a reasonable price for something that will help you out in a foreign country without racking up data charges. Read more

Talking Translator

Have you ever been stuck in a foreign country desperately wanting to ask a local a question but limited by your language skills? Well the iPhone and iPod touch from Apple in conjunction with Coolgorilla have the solution.

Coolgorilla develop software applications for iPods and Mobile phones. They have just launched their first application for the iPhone and iPod touch called the ‘Talking Phrasebook’.

The application provides both text and audio translations in French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Italian. A Greek version is expected to be released soon and if successful more languages will follow.

The software is sponsored by lastminute.com so it is available free of charge and can be downloaded from the Coolgorilla or Apple Apps websites.

The application contains over 300 hundred words and phrases in each language to help you get by when travelling abroad. It includes sections on Essentials, Travel, Accommodation, Food & Drink, Socialising, Romance, Shopping and Emergencies.

Simply select your required phrase from the English menu system and your iPhone or iPod touch will then display a written translation on screen and also provides a spoken translation using recordings of a native voice artists.

All the translations are stored within your iPhone or iPod Touch and so the application does not require that you access the internet whilst abroad.

While this is not a replacement for telephone interpreting this application is an exciting development in translation software and an ideal solution for holiday makers who need basic phrases to help them on their travels.

apple translation fail

Apple Translation Fail

Translation fails are a well-trodden internet path for people looking for a quick giggle. Whether it’s that Chinese toilet sign inviting you to ‘pee in the pool’ or a coffee shop in Bulgaria that proudly boasts a poster saying ‘we hope you lick our coffee and our waiters’, the idea that something so inappropriate could reach public display is just plain comedy gold. These well-meaning attempts at transmitting a message aren’t just funny though; they remind us that translation is more complex than a lot of people imagine. I mean how obvious are some of those classic examples weve all seen? Well, not very if you have little understanding of the language.

There are situations where this kind of innocuous mistake can have more serious implications, though, if say it was made by a giant multinational technology company for example. Take the Apple iPhone 7 slogan ‘This is 7’. Hilariously, in September when this ad was shown in Hong Kong it became apparent that in Cantonese the slogan read as ‘This is male genitalia’. Read more

iPhone Now Supports Cherokee

IOS 4.1, the latest software release for the iPhone and the iPod Touch, adds support for a new language: Cherokee. Now, all but the oldest iPhones are capable of using the Cherokee syllabary to send and receive text messages. In addition, now that Cherokee is supported, it will be easier for the Cherokee Nation to develop and release Cherokee-language apps.

iPhone users can access the Cherokee keyboard via the “international keyboard” option in the keyboard settings. Once the keyboard has been added to the device, it’s easy to toggle between Cherokee and English when using the phone.

Apple’s decision to include Cherokee is important because it makes it easier for the tribe to teach their children to use the language. As Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith explained to the Native American Times:

“People communicate differently today. Including our language on the iPhone and iPod makes it accessible to more people, especially our youth.  This is critical to the survival and growth of our language.” Read more

iPhone App Helps Troops

When it comes to Afghanistan, winning the all-important “battle of hearts of minds” has proven to be quite difficult…especially when soldiers don’t speak the language. Now, a new, free iPhone app is available to help soldiers learn Dari, one of the local languages. The app, TripLingoDari, was recently profiled on CNN.com.

Dari, the Afghan dialect of Persian, is spoken by about half of the country’s inhabitants. Being able to speak it, even with a limited vocabulary, is a huge advantage for NATO soldiers. Lt. David Duffus of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland told CNN that the app has been a big help: “It helps break the ice with the locals… I can talk directly to the soldiers without needing an interpreter and when we are under fire that can save lives — ours and theirs.” Read more

Star Trek's Universal Translator: Coming Soon to an iPhone Near You?

Remember the Universal Translator from Star Trek? The translator enabled members of the Star Trek crew to understand alien languages as they were spoken. According to Geek.com, there is currently an iPhone app in beta that is reminiscent of the science-fiction device.

The iPhone app from Sakhr Software and Dial Directions, which is being used by US diplomats and soldiers in Iraq, can translate from Arabic to English and back again.

To use it, all you have to do is press a button on the iPhone and speak the phrase that you need to have translated. The app does the rest, using voice recognition algorithms to decipher what you are saying and translate it.

When the translation is complete, the app speaks the phrase in the other language, as well as displaying the translated version on the screen. Unlike earlier pocket translation programs, you don’t have to type anything.

Unlike most computerized translation programs, this one is actually pretty accurate, and based on this video demonstration, can even translate relatively difficult and complicated sentences.

As cool as it would be to have this on your own iPhone, it’s not available to the general public yet. But just imagine how much easier it would be to travel to another country if you had one of these!

Of course, I can’t see this app completely replacing trained, fluent and human interpreters who understand the nuances of both languages and cultures. Also, even if devices like this become common, it would still be preferable to learn as much of the language of the country you are visiting as possible. After all, most people prefer it when you talk to them, not to a machine. However, I think a pocket translator like this could make learning another language easier if you tried to learn from it instead of using it as a crutch.

New Apps Help Keep Canadian Native Languages Alive

In an attempt to keep some of Canada’s most endangered native languages alive, advocates are turning to Apple, according to Canada.com. Working in conjunction with First Nation tribes and the First Peoples Cultural Foundation, a group of developers called FirstVoices has just released apps for the Sencoten and Halq’emeylem languages on the iPad, iPod and iPhone.

Sencoten is spoken by the Saanich people of Vancouver Island. The language is in dire straits; at this time, only about 10 people can speak it fluently.  Halq’emeylem, which is spoken by a group of related tribes in Vancouver’s Fraser Valley, has about 225 speakers according to Ethnologue. However, according to Wikipedia in 2000 it was estimated that less than a dozen were actually fluent. Read more

A Translation App for the Olympics

As the 2012 Summer Olympics kick off and London prepares for the onslaught of foreign visitors, a new iPhone app is being released to make it easier for all of those people to communicate.

The app, called VoiceTra4U-M, works for both telephone conversations and face-to-face conversations in 13 different languages, including American English, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Malay and Vietnamese. Text-only translation is available for another 10.

The app is the brainchild of the Universal Speech Translation Advanced Research Consortium, otherwise known as U-STAR. This research group was formed with the objective of “breaking language barriers around the world and implementing vocal communication between different languages.” It really is a perfect fit for the Olympics.

Of course, there are other translation apps for the iPhone, but VoiceTra4U-M has the advantage of openness, meaning that a country could set up its own servers and use the app to translate its local language, which might give it an advantage when it comes to attracting tourists.

Like all machine translation technology, VoiceTra4U-M is not perfect and does have some drawbacks. For one thing, the actual translating takes place on remote servers, which implies that you do need to have a data connection available to use it. And depending on your carrier, the fees for that data could add up quickly. Then, there’s the fact that the conversation will inevitably be full of awkward pauses as the data gets beamed to those servers, translated and sent back.

Finally, the U-STAR team chose to sacrifice breadth of translation ability in favor of accuracy (an understandable decision given the limitations of available technology). As the New Scientist notes,

“U-STAR has also initially focused on translating words and phrase related to tourism, making it 80 to 90 per cent accurate versus Google’s 40 to 60 per cent accuracy – though of course, this falls if you want to discuss a topic not covered by the app.”

That’s not to knock the potential usefulness of this app for travelers, though. Oftentimes as a tourist, all you need is to be able to accurately ask a simple question like “Where is the bathroom?” and then understand the answer.