Sci-fi humorist Douglas Adams envisioned the ultimate interpreter: the Babel fish, a bright yellow, leechlike creature that, once inserted into your ear, would provide you with instant translations from any tongue. Franklin’s Audio Translator, copublished in SD-card format by MDM, is less unpleasant to use than squeezing a fish into your ear, but unfortunately it is far less effective. In fact, it may work better as an international icebreaker than a functional speaking interpreter.

You can’t blame the folks at Franklin and MDM for trying, though. In fact they’ve packed a respectable amount of linguistic information into a card only slightly bigger than a quarter. At the heart of the Audio Translator is a five-way dictionary of words and phrases, capable of giving you instantaneous translations between English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Want to know the German for bonjour or the Italian for have a nice day? No problema, as the Spanish say. You can search an alphabetical list of words and phrases, or browse phrases in a variety of traveler-friendly categories such as Emergencies, Hotel, and Dining.

While it’s not as comprehensive as a full dictionary, Audio Translator has a reasonably useful selection of general-purpose phrases for hapless tourists. (Its total of 40,000 words and 5,000 phrases means there are roughly 8,000 words and 1,000 phrases in each language — quite small compared with a real dictionary.) For business purposes, it is less practical: If you are using a PDA translator to ask someone, “Does this product meet the necessary standards?” then language is the least of your problems.

Where Audio Translator really stops making sense, however, is in attempting to speak these words and phrases out loud. The program’s rapid-fire text-to-speech synthesizer, especially when piped through the tiny speakers of a handheld, produces results that are risible at best and completely unintelligible at worst. If you already know the language in question, these tinny vocalizations might be a helpful reminder — but don’t plan on holding your Palm up to a Ligurian peasant’s ear in hopes of getting directions. You’d be far better off holding your questions until you find someone who speaks English. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Five-way dictionary of travel-related words and phrases
Worst Feature: Barely intelligible text-to-speech synthesizer

Franklin MDM Audio Translator
Specs: Translation between English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish; dictionary of 40,000 words and 5,000 phrases total
System requirements: Palm OS 5.x with 5MB of free memory; Windows Mobile with 5.5MB of free memory; Nokia phones with 500KB of free memory

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Link: Franklin MDM Audio Translator

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