Rumour has it that Yoshiteru Yamamoto was unable to chat up an Italian girl who was sitting beside him on a bench; Yoshiteru didn’t speak Italian and the girl didn’t speak English. Oh, if only there was a translator for them. Such a desire is supposed to be the motivation for the application Talkman.
Talkman presents itself as the first of the PSP’s application packages, software that has seemingly found its home exclusively on Nintendo’s DS. It’s not a game; instead, it’s a travelling companion that will help users in a variety of situations that they are likely to find themselves in while travelling abroad.
It’s no Babelfish; despite the presence of a translating animal – in this case, a bird named Max – Talkman’s ability to translate is limited by technology. Storage limitations mean Talkman only translates into small selection of languages: English, Spanish, French, Japanese, Italian, and German; so don’t expect it to come in useful if you plan to travel to Russia or China.
Talkman is also limited by the fact that the software interprets your voice through the microphone and compares it to a list of set phrases for the given situation. So while it’s perfectly able to realise that “Do you have broadband?” is similar to “I’d like to connect via Ethernet,” you’re not going to be able to ask if the establishment also has a bathroom you can use without dropping back into the main menu and picking the corresponding situation.
The load times will also prove to be an obstacle. It can’t really be avoided given the nature of the UMD format, but it still proves tedious to have to wait for the program to load before the ‘conversation’ can move on.
However, Talkman is useful for travelling situations. It’s cheaper and more effective than travel dictionaries, and despite the situation-based presentation, it does allow for effective communication. NZGamer tested the program out with native speakers of both French and Japanese and the program managed to translate into a variety of languages with minimal fuss.
The program will also help budding learners of a language. Users can enter a tutorial mode that will encourage users to perfect their pronunciation. It won’t help you learn a language from scratch, but it will allow you to learn a few key phrases that should help you out in some basic travelling situations.
It’s hardly going to let you pick up chicks on a park bench in Italy, but it may help you find the Aspirin in the supermarket. Talkman is excellent value for money, especially as it’s bundled with the PSP microphone, and will prove invaluable for travellers or learners of second languages. Just don’t expect it to remove all of the obstacles that are present when a common language isn’t present.