As the old proverb goes, necessity is the mother of invention.
Although this is usually attributed to Greek philosopher Plato, it still rings true thousands of years later, as the best ideas often come out of the simple realisation that something is missing.
Enter University of Iowa graduate RuiHao Min to illustrate this point perfectly, as he was left feeling embarrassed after a date he was on with an international student went horribly wrong after he ordered her a salad with blue cheese dressing by accident.
While he did not understand the Italian menu, he wanted to come across as culturally savvy and so plumped for the only dish he recognized, or thought he recognized, with disastrous consequences.
The language barrier and food
In order to stop such a blunder from happening again, and improve his chances of finding love, Min created a mobile app that offers visual menu translation so that people can always work out what they are ordering.
Blue Cheese allows people to take a picture of a menu they do not understand through a re-sizable scanning box. Unlike many other translation apps on the market, his system also offers photos and flavor descriptions to help create a fuller picture of how the food will look and taste.
"We've discovered it is both a language barrier and a cultural barrier," Min told Iowa Now when discussing the difficulty of using foreign menus. "For example, 'blue' and 'cheese' are very simple words – we all know them – but you would never know exactly what blue cheese looks like or tastes like until you try it."
He is currently weighing up his next move for the app, with plans to add more languages, calorie counters and allergy information under consideration.
It's certainly proved popular though, as within three weeks of its release it had been downloaded over 70,000 times and was featured on iTunes' Best New Apps list. And who said nothing ever comes from a disastrous first date?
Of course, here at EQHO we know all about the perils of app localization, as companies need to make sure they are designed in the right way to maximize exposure. The seismic growth of the app market – Gartner estimated that app revenue in 2013 was $29.5 billion – means there is a real opportunity for companies to engage consumers and businesspeople.
But what do they need to consider if they want to localize an app?
Make sure you get the right voice, as the quality of the voice artists can be the difference between success and failure. For example, using a Scottish accent for an app being used primarily in England is not a good idea.
Consider the issue of text expansion from the start. Differences in grammar, syntax, word usage and terminology means the original script could have to be altered.
Use on-screen text where appropriate, as this minimizes some of the challenges associated with making the app seamless for other languages.
As Min has shown, there will always be a market for a great idea based around language difficulties. For the translation community, the challenge is to keep looking. Now who's for a first date?
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