Idea 1: The Useless Traveler

January 29th, 2013, 8:25 pm PST by Greg

[While traveling, I have thought of a couple of things that need to exist. This is #1.]

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this ideal of what would happen when I get to a new country: I would know a few words of the language, and be able say at least “yes”, “no”, “good”, “bad”, “the cheque please”, etc.

So, I end up buying a traveler’s phrasebook, and I hate them sooooo much. The southeast asian phrasebook beside me has, on page one “yes”, “no”, “please”, “thank you”, “goodbye”. Fine, but worth poor phonetic transcriptions. On page two it has “I am a businessman/businesswoman/doctor/journalist/manual worker/administrator/scientist/student/teacher.”

If I didn’t know “hello” a page ago, how is that useful? Even if I had to convey my profession, I wouldn’t say that: I’d point at myself and say “teacher” and everyone on the planet would understand. The extra grammar is just there to give me something to screw up, and the nine-way alternation makes it impossible to actually use the translation.

A few pages later, “Do you accept travellers cheques/credit cards?” Once again, nobody in the world needs that translation: hold up your credit card and see if they take it. Also, the translations use “krub/ka” without explaining that which you use depends on the gender of the speaker.

What I want is like a spreadsheet with columns like “English”, “Thai (written)”, “Phonetic”. I want to be able to select words/phrases to populate the page, and then print it so I can either study it our point to it, as the situation dictates. I might reasonably learn the words for “hello” and “thank you”, but I want “Can you please help me order?” written so I can just point at it and hope the waitress has a sense of humour.

Thus I propose a web site with:

  • Crowdsourced translations of words/phrases that users want.
  • A nice interface to select the columns for each user’s needs. For example, in Chinese I’d want a column “Pinyin” since “xièxie” is useful to me, but many english speakers would want a “Rough Phonetics” column with “shay shay”.
  • A similarly-nice interface to build a collection of phrases that you’re interested in.
  • The ability to export that as a PDF for printing.
  • A non-free phone app where you can export the table of translations for use electronically.

As far as I know, this is an unfilled niche. I do know that I probably don’t have the time to do it. Somebody make it for me, okay?

2 Responses to “Idea 1: The Useless Traveler”

  1. Craig Says:

    Very interesting, very very interesting. Even the name of the product “The Useless Traveller” is good 😉

  2. Curtis Lassam Says:

    “You should build that. I bet it wouldn’t take longer than a weekend.”

    “Quiet, brain. Enough of your shenanigans. “