As regular readers of this blog will be aware, as I’m keen on a move to France, I’ve talked about the wonders of language translation software before, whether it is Google Translate via your web browser or apps such as Jibgigo’s excellent Jibbigo-FR (for iPhone/iPod/iPad) that can put the same technology on your smartphone and in your pocket. The Jibbigo-Fr app can take both typed text and voice recognition as its input and, in the main, the latter works pretty well. However, I’ve also recently tried an alternative app – SayHi Translate – which seems to be designed from the ground up to have the spoken voice as its primary input. While the app does require an internet connection to work, it supports a wide range of other languages aside from just English-French (or French-English) translation, including German, Spanish, Italian, Russian and Portuguese so, if you are a language student or you regularly need to do business in a range of different languages, SayHi might also be of interest.
The SayHi interface is slightly different in layout depending upon which iDevice you use it with (the screen shots here are based upon the iPhone) but the basic elements are the same. The bulk of the display is used to display the ‘conversation’ so, assuming you were wishing to translate between English and French, once you have spoken a phrase in English, the app then goes through a process of speech recognition and translation. Once this is completed (and even for an extended speech of a few sentences, it only takes a few seconds), both the English and French are then shown as text and the French is spoken back to you. The same happens in reverse if you speak in French – you get both languages back as text and spoken English.
The provision of the text in both languages is a good idea because it allows you to judge how well the initial voice recognition phase has been performed – if you see mistakes here or words that the software has not been able to recognise correctly, you will know which sections of the translated French you need to be wary of! That said, I actually thought the recognition algorithm works pretty well. Obviously, things are at their best if you fairly simple phrases or everyday words; if you throw in lots of technical words or brand names, for example, things might not be quite so good. Equally, you need to learn how to speak clearly into the app. My first few efforts produced some rather unpredictable results but, once I got used to articulating my words clearly and at a consistent tempo, things improved considerably.
Starting a conversation is easy. You just tap either the English or French button at the base of the screen. The display then changes telling you to ‘speak’ and you can speak you sentence or series of sentences. To finish and start the recognition and translation process, you just press the ‘Done’ button and, after a short wait, the screen reverts to the ‘conversation’ display, up pops your text and you get the spoken translation. With a half-decent internet connection, this short wait is most certainly short enough to have a proper conversation so, if you (as an English speaker) and a second person (a French speaker) were sat in front of your iPhone or iPad and taking in turns to speak into it, you could certainly have a reasonable conversation. Providing you were both able to keep things reasonably simple, to speak clearly and there was not a lot of background noise to confuse the voice recognition process, the technology seems good enough not to get in the way.
For situations where the voice recognition process can’t quite cope, you do have the options to type in phrases for translation by pressing the small ‘keyboard’ icon that is present on the language buttons at the bases of the screen. The small spanner icon opens the Settings page where you can select your language pair plus a few other options. As indicated above, the list of languages is very impressive and, while I only tested the French and German (and my German is even worse than my French!), I’m sure I’d find this a reassuring tool to have at hand if I was suddenly transferred to Spain or Portugal or Russia and needed to ask for directions to the tourist office or my hotel.
Of course, these sorts of translation apps are no substitute for learning the language and becoming fluent. While the app itself makes a very useful learning tool, like all automated translation software, there will be times when SayHi will get things wrong. Therefore, you would always need to be a little careful if you were depending upon the app for something critical (such as a medical emergency or discussing the
technical details of an expensive business deal!) but, if you are just doing something less life-changing like making yourself understood in a hotel or restaurant or perhaps convincing the local maire that you were just the fine sort of upstanding citizen his/her community requires (actually, maybe that last one is something potentially life-changing?), then I’m sure there are plenty of times that SayHi could be a considerable help. And given the pocket-money price of the app, why not have it around just in case?