Need a Menu Translated? There’s An App for That!

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There’s no denying that automatic language translation has its problems, but in some instances it’s a godsend. For example, take eating out in a restaurant where nobody speaks your language.  You’re not going to hire someone to translate for you, so unless you’re traveling with a local who speaks the language or there’s someone working at the restaurant who speaks English, you’re stuck making educated guesses about what to order.

Unless, of course, you have the new smart phone app from Purdue University. This app is designed to accurately translate menus, alerting you of possible risky ingredients like raw meat and of potential allergens like shellfish and peanuts.
Associate Professor  Mireille “Mimi” Boutin explained how the app works in a university press release:

“You type in the menu listing and the application translates it automatically without talking to a server. It only takes a fraction of a second, you don’t need connection to the Internet and it won’t empty your battery.”

In addition to translating menu items, the app also helps people on special diets catch potential problems and request accommodations. Professor Boutin provided some real-world examples of how this functionality could be useful:

“People who must follow a medical diet are often reluctant to travel for fear of putting their health at risk. The problem with menus is that even if you know the language you may still have to ask questions to clarify what a dish contains. For example, in German, ‘Schinken’ means ham, but it can be raw ham or cooked ham. If you are going to eat the ham, you might want to know which.”

But how does the app manage to avoid the pitfalls of using something like Google Translate? Basically, the narrow focus on food items helps improve accuracy.

The prototype app was developed in Spanish. Unfortunately, it’s not available in the app store yet; hopefully someone develop a commercial version of it soon.