Online travel service Lastminute.comis set to launch talking phrase books for mobile phone users.
The phrase books allow travellers to look up phrases on the screen of their mobile phone. The software then speaks the phrase in the local language, overcoming pronunciation problems.
"Instead of you having to flick through the pages of a phrase book to find what you want to say, you simply click your phone menu, select the phrase you need and voila!" said Mark McCulloch, Lastminute.com's head of brand development.
The software, which currently runs on Nokia and Sony Ericsson handsets, costs 3 per language to download. Currently the developer - coolgorilla.com - offers six languages: French, German, Greek, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Each download contains between 250 and 300 phrases developed in conjunction with Lastminute.com's travel experts.
According to coolgorilla, developing translation software for mobile handsets makes sense, because the mobile phone is one item almost everyone takes on their travels, and because it is easy to play back an audio clip to a local person from a mobile phone.
The company started working with Lastminute.com by developing a series of phrasebooks for iPods. Although the iPod phrasebooks are free to download for Lastminute.com customers, and they include 800 phrases, the lack of a speaker in the iPod makes that software more of a learning tool than a practical option for travellers who need instant help.
Although the initial phone phrasebooks are aimed mostly at holidaymakers, CoolGorilla is working on phrasebooks for more business-oriented languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Polish and Swedish. The company is also developing multi-language software, for example to translate directly from French to Italian.
"The talking phrase books are equally suited to business users as consumers as they cover elements such as travel, accommodation and dates and times: essential areas that people travelling abroad on business will find useful," said McCulloch.
"And because the phrase is spoken it allows business users to appear professional and prepared as though they have brushed up on the local lingo before their meeting."
Whether IT directors will be happy to sign off for downloading software that explains how to flirt in a foreign tongue remains to be seen.
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