Lost in translation

Published 5:51 pm Tuesday, November 19, 2019

So Son No. 3 lands for a minute and talks South America. We’re sitting fireside, feet on a cozy shag rug. Mississippi leaves are falling outside the French doors, and I’m wondering why anyone would want to be anywhere else.

But the travel bug hit our boy hard this year, and he took advantage of a strange space of life that allowed him to go. Go. And go some more. The last leg of his continental hopping found him on an Argentine airstrip. He’d been flying all night and the sight of Paris was a welcome one.

Yes, Paris. That’s what he says they call Buenos Aires — the “Paris of South America.” Evidently, it’s some kind of pretty with all its European-style architecture. Even his $6-a-night hostel was built centuries ago. 

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So he took the tours, rode a boat and observed how fanatical citizens are about “futbol.”

“That Saturday, all the shops closed at around 2 or 3 that afternoon. Everyone went home to sit in front of their TV, or they went to the stadium itself and watched the game. And the game didn’t start until 8 that night.”

But in Argentina, like in all the other South American countries the Wanderer visited, the language barrier was, well, a barrier.

He said that really comes into play when you’re outside the airport dealing with an Uber driver: “We sat on the phone trying to speak in Spanish for a long time. I was able to convey to him where I was. Eventually.”

The same thing happened when he went to a sandwich shop.

“A meat sandwich shop. Meat is really big in Argentina,” he stressed. “I couldn’t make the waitress understand what I was trying to get, so I had to pull out Google Translate and let her talk to it and figure it out that way.”

What? They have an app for that now?

“Of course, Mom.” (I think he rolled his eyes here.)

Wow. So what if I’m several years behind and everyone (even my husband) says it’s old news? It’s big news to me, the kind that could have translated into high grades in French 202. Imagine a screenshot of “c’est ma boulangerie preferee” turning into “this is my favorite bakery” in the blink of an eye. No conjugations to memorize. No nasal vowels. No silent “h.”


So he gave me a breakdown of Google Translate, explaining that it’s an app that translates text, speech, and even — get this — a picture of a menu.

It was my turn to roll my eyes.

The wanderer then described a time he was sitting in Peru, having a conversation with some Venezuelans.

“I set it on the table and I never had to click a button or anything. I just spoke. It translated, and the other person started talking. Automatic translation. I used it for at least 15 languages in my travels.”

But while I was marveling over this wonder of technology, The New York Times was publishing an article about a new device that comes close to whispering translations right into a person’s ear. Yes, wireless earbuds that seamlessly sync to smart phones dishing out 36 languages and 84 accents are already on the market.

What? You didn’t know?

They’re from a company called Timekettle, and they offer hands-free, immersion-type translation capabilities. For the moment, it’s really cutting-edge technology, so you wanderers out there should probably take note. Just don’t count on Southern Speak making their list of 84 accents.

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com. Follow her on twitter at @kimhenderson319.