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Putting A Translator Through Its Paces


Pocket-size electronic translators can help you muddle through in languages you don't know. Franklin's new $230 TGA-490 Speaking Global Translator goes further than most. In addition to giving written translations of hundreds of thousands of words and phrases in 12 languages—including Japanese, Korean, and Mandarin, displayed phonetically and in their characters—it has a voice function that can pronounce 115,000 words in the language of your choice.

The TGA-490 is about the size of a Palm (PALM)-type handheld device and has a full keyboard that slides out from the bottom. How useful is it? To find out, we sent one around the world for test runs with BusinessWeek correspondents. They generally agreed that the device is most helpful if you stick to basic travelers' vocabulary. While the pronunciations are accurate, the sound quality could be better. Still, packing a TGA-490 for a multicountry business trip is more practical than carrying a stack of pocket dictionaries.

DEXTER ROBERTS, BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF:

"It seems to have a quite limited vocabulary. Translating from English, there's the word for million,' but oddly it does not have billion' or trillion.' If you put in the Chinese word for edit' or editor' (they are the same), it gives you only the English verb, not the noun. While the Chinese pronunciation sounds pretty good when it does have the word, the English at times sounds off."

CAROL MATLACK, PARIS BUREAU CHIEF:

"The English-to-French translations are generally well done, but quite a bit of the Russian is inappropriate. For example, the translation of How do you do?' is a casual term (more like How's it going?') that you wouldn't use when meeting someone for the first time."

JACK EWING, FRANKFURT BUREAU CHIEF:

"The spoken pronunciations in German are correct and a useful check on your own pronunciation. I studied Spanish many years ago, but not enough to attempt to talk to anyone. Using the translator, I could read the headlines of Spanish newspapers."

KENJI HALL, TOKYO CORRESPONDENT:

"In English-Japanese mode, having both the Japanese word and its pronunciation in Roman letters is a nice touch. It's not easy to go from Japanese to English."


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