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Show HN: Mantaphrase, an app that lets you converse in a foreign language (mantaphrase.com)
127 points by wlue on Oct 9, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments

This sounds like a very good idea and I would happy pay a few bucks for it on Android the next time I have to travel somewhere I don't speak the language.

Have you considered providing the flip side of the conversation? I would want to use an English interface to present a question and possible answers to a person who speaks another language, but it might also be possible that I'd want to let them pick from a list of phrases/questions in their language and allow me to answer as well.

Thanks for your comments! The idea of the conversation interface is that the user is driving the conversation. We wanted to make it extremely simple for the other person to see and respond. We don't have a good solution for the flip-side yet. It's one of the issues we found with certain translation applications that have user interfaces meant for two people. One person is probably not going to know how to use it.

I definitely do see value in this kind of interaction though, but we're going to have to be careful about how we implement it so we don't make the interface confusing for the person you actually want to communicate and not confuse!

Maybe you could make it detect when the device is turned upside down, and display a 180º rotated interface in the conversation partner's language? So the interaction would be input phrase->turn phone upside down->partner enters phrase?

Does the app read out the phrase? If not, I see this as a big challenge in developing countries where, depending on who you interact with, the person might not know how to read (even their native language)

Patrick here. Good insight, and this is a feature we currently have in the works!

At a street market in Quito, Ecuador a few years ago I watched in horror as a backpacker pulled out his shiny iPhone and shoved an app like this in the face of a vendor.

The phone cost more than the vendor will make in a year, and the backpacker was oblivious that he was shoving that in her face.

I would never use such a thing.

Right, because no vendors in developing countries are aware that western visitors-including backpackers-are comparatively well off.

I don't travel in Asia much, but if some European languages are added, this will go on my must have list of apps.

Of course they are aware of it, but it's another thing to shove it in their face so blatantly.

Never mind the safety implications of publicly showing off a ~$500 device in a crowded street market in a developing country.

While the point you make is certainly something to think about when travelling to developing countries, there are many developed countries out there as well where an app like this could be useful. The example given in the blogpost was Japan.

yeah while in travel, there's nothing better than pen and paper (notes, quides, maps). I can handle it to a vendor, cab driver or any bypasser and not worry that somebody will run with it or pass it to another person - you won't do that with a smatphone/tablet.

not to mention you sometimes meet elderly or tech-illiterate people and while they are helpful, good luck making them show you something on google maps on a phone or type in the address.

I'm sure the vendor was deeply offended, and would have much preferred the backpacker walk on by without spending any money or trying to communicate.

Looks great.

I'm hoping there's an Android version in the works?

Yes, it's something we're seriously considering for sure.

This is excellent! I recently moved to Switzerland without knowing any French, and while using Google Translate to figure out how to ask basic questions works fine in a pinch, I'm usually at a loss if the person responds by speaking too fast or using complex vocabulary. Though I can get by in French now, I'll definitely bring this with me when I'm Taipei and Tokyo later this year. Keep it up!

You gotta prime them :)

  - Parlez-vous anglais?
  - No
  - Je ne parle pas bien le français, mais ... [followed by
    English with French-style word mangling and descriptive
    gestures and sounds]
Once they know you suck at French, they will spe-ak slo-o-o-w-e-r and cut you a break in general.

Francophone Swiss speaking even slower? I can't imagine. (insider French joke)

As a Brit who lived in St Gallen for a couple of years, I never found any problem, the Swiss all speak perfect Swiss, English, French and German. My schoolboy French was useless because the moment I would open my mouth they would instantly switch to English, even in rural areas.

> the Swiss all speak perfect Swiss, English, French and German

What do you mean by perfect Swiss? (To be honest, as a German I am inclined to classify Swiss German as its own language. Especially since we already grant Dutch to be a different language from German.)

He probably means Romansh. It's one of Switzerland's national languages, although only a small minority of the population speaks it.

Yes. It's always fun to bring that up, because people generally see Switzerland as trilingual only. Haven't met a speaker of that language, yet, though.

I met some. It was fun to see, how they could communicate with spanish people.

Yeah, I've found it really depends. Shortly after I came here, I had one Swiss person say in a huff (and in perfect English!), "You've been here for three months, and you still don't speak French?" How long ago did you live in St. Gallen? These days it seems like there's a bit of anti-foreigner mentality, so I've noticed I get a warmer reception if I at least try to speak the language.

So legit. I'm taking Chinese right now and not only does this let you converse in a foreign language, but it can help you learn the characters for everday sayings along the way. Great design and I'm excited to see that it's launched!

Useful app and a good idea, but if I could pick phrases by saying them (or keywords), it will make this a super useful app and a brilliant idea.

(edit) I've been using a Google Translate-based contraption to do what this app does, and the most annoying and awkward part is that pause in the conversation when you have to type stuff into the phone. You get rid of this pause, you got yourself an exceptionally useful product.

Yes! This is something that we're really excited about, and is definitely on our pipeline.

Nice. The "universal translator" is the 'Trek thing' I'm looking forward to getting next. Seems like the race is on between the replicator and the translator.

I'm not super optimistic about either, but 3d printing is nothing even remotely like replicating. We haven't even started on that problem.

Radio telephones were invented in the 40's. Even in the late 80's cell phones were nothing like communicators.

Now, in most places on earth, I can tap my phone and say a name and get the person on the line.

I am very optimistic. I'm tired of the dystopian naysaying that seems to be so popular these days. The future is full of win.

I think he means that they are two fundamentally different devices. 1980s cell phones still do voice communication. A replicator, unlike a 3-D printer does not simply reproduce a shape. It also reproduces the constituent matter.

My cell phone doesn't call starships in orbit via 'subspace' radio either. With the hairs and the splitting.

Check out iTranslate on iOS if you haven't seen it. Voice-to-voice translation between dozens of languages.

These guys have been working for a while on this, and I know they have some other ideas that aren't even in the app yet. Looking forward to seeing them add to the app.

It's a beautiful app, and I wouldn't be surprised if it won designs from Apple.


Best implementation of voice-to-voice communication I've seen yet: http://www.vocre.com/

Cool idea!

You mention "large, readable text"... would it be larger and more readable if the app was in landscape mode? Or would it be harder to use?

The app works in landscape when in a conversation. This makes the text a bit bigger.

Where are you sourcing the exchange rate data from? Since August CAD has been above USD, but the app shows it at ~$0.98 instead.

Exchange rate info right now is just an approximation that's stored offline. In a next release, we're going to be sourcing information like that more often.

I'm curious to know how much field testing you guys have done with this app. It looks very promising!

We have had a bunch of beta testers use it in China and Japan. It was also fun to pretend to not know English and use it at a restaurant.

The UI looks great! I wish I had this when I was traveling in Japan.

It's quite nice looking. Nice job guys!

Congratulations on launching!

Congrats guys

bummer that 5.1 is mandatory :(

looks legit

I stopped at: Hand your $600 phone to a stranger.

Although, they could sell a tether as an accessory.

Mantaphrase uses large readable text that can be read from a good distance away. That means you can show your device to another person without having to hand it over!

Most people are actually quite trustworthy. And you are quite good at determining who's trustworthy as well.

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