App of the Week: Let iTranslate Voice Do Your Talking for You

App: iTranslate Voice Platform: iPhone Web site: iTranslate Voice Cost: $0.99

Back in the '90s, there was this cool band from Denton called Ten Hands. They were sort of a weird mix of the Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel and Frank Zappa. They had really quirky material and covered a wide range of styles -- they had some skills. One of their songs was called "Dónde Es Mi Zapatos?" Translated basically: Where are my shoes? I took four years of Spanish in high school, yet I couldn't figure out what the hell zapatos meant without the help of the rest of the lyrics. Sad, I know.

Years later, I began to think it might be a good idea to learn Spanish given our proximity to Mexico and the number of people in Houston who speak it. So I tried learning tapes and even having my girlfriend, who is fluent in it, translate words from salsa music or sing American pop songs in Spanish. But it has only served to deepen my frustration.

Fortunately, I live in the age of technology and have an iPhone because it means I can also use iTranslate Voice when I need to speak some Spanish. iTranslate is still one of the best translation apps out there -- much better than Babelfish, for example -- but it was only for the written word. Most times, I need to speak it, not write it down. Enter iTranslate Voice.

The Good This very simple and easy-to-use app does exactly what it says. You choose two languages -- one you are speaking and one being translated -- and tap the screen. Say what you want to say, and the app translates it into words on the screen and a voice speaks it for you.

As of now, the app supports three different variations of Chinese, English and Spanish, Danish, Dutch, two French options, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, two versions of Portuguese, Russian and Swedish. I find that last one particularly handy when in Ikea.

It has additional languages like Arabic, Greek, Thai and more that do not have spoken translations as of yet, but will still display the words for you. The app is still in its infancy, so it makes sense that as it grows, new languages will be added.

Not only is this extremely handy when you need something translated for someone, but it does help to learn what you are saying. It's a quick way to figure out, for example, what to say when you need a bathroom. Always important.

The Bad This is still a very young app and needs time to grow and mature. There are, as I mentioned, some language limitations and its voice recognition is still a tad on the buggy side, particularly when you are in a noisy spot. Also, it doesn't always automatically speak. I found myself having to reboot my phone to get it to work accurately the first time. My guess is this bug will get repaired soon, but it's still annoying.

There is also no option for male or female voices. You get whatever they have at the moment, which is a minor quibble. One thing that isn't, however, is translating words that you don't know. Mispronounce a word and it returns the wrong English option, which gets confusing.

The Verdict Get it. At an introductory price of 99 cents, this is impossible to beat. It still has some growing to do and no doubt future versions will address most of my complaints, but even with the shortcomings of a new app, this thing is killer and well worth the download.

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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke