Ever tried to convince a Bulgarian that you were the real Slim Shady? No? Either way, we've all got stuck ordering a bottle of the local plonk on holiday or at the local Italian eatery. But wouldn't it be cool if you could use your phone to get around these awkward moments? Step forward Google, which has created a mobile version of its Translation service for iPhone users.
The Google Translate mobile service works almost exactly like the desktop version. Simply type in a word or phrase, select the language you wish to translate it to and hit 'Translate'. It deciphers both single words and entire phrases from 24 different languages including Chinese, French, Japanese and, er, Finnish. But unlike those electronic dictionaries you can buy at airports, you're not tethered to a few pre-selected phrases -- the database is so large, Google didn't know how many words are in it when we wrote this.
The whole thing works using the iPhone's Safari browser, which means that you need a data connection to use the service. But once you've searched for a word or phrase, it's stored in the iPhone's memory and can be accessed again without a data connection. Of course, you're most likely to use this service when you're abroad, so you will incur roaming data charges. Google wouldn't quantify how much data is used, except to say that it is 'minimal', so hopefully your phone bill won't be too high when you get home.
Aside from being an impressive app in its own right, there's an interesting story about how it came into existence. Allen Hutchison, an engineering manager at Google, developed it during his '20 per cent time', the one day a week Google employees get to spend on whatever projects they want. Better yet, we're told it only took Allen a couple of days to finish it -- now that's efficient.
If you want to try it out for yourself, and we suggest that you do, then go to http://google.com on your iPhone, click on 'More' in the menu and then on 'Translate'. You'll finally be able to tell your estranged Spanish neighbour that you didn't mean to insult his cat -- you just thought it looked like a dog. -Andrew Lim