Jun 17, 2018

iPhone Google Maps in translation

When I first moved to Portugal I had a TomTom navigation system that I had used for a few years when I traveled. Upon crossing a border, I would usually change the language for audio cues, because listening to street names in one language pronounced badly in another was simply too confusing and possibly dangerous. Eventually, the navigation device died as crappy electronics inevitably do, and I changed over to smartphone navigation systems, first Apple Maps on my iPhone and, after I tired of getting sent down impossible goat trails in Minho, Google Maps, which generally did a better job of not getting me lost and into danger.
For the most part, the experience with Google Maps has been good. It's particularly nice for calling up restaurant information (hours, phone numbers, etc.) on the same display where I can initiate navigation to find the restaurant. The only problem was that using audio cues was painful, because the awful American woman's voice butchering Portuguese street names meant that my only hope of finding anything was to keep my eyes on the actual map and try to shut out (or simply turn off) the audio.

What I wanted was navigation instructions in Portuguese, at least while I am in Portugal; across the border in Spain it would be nice to have Spanish to avoid confusion. Not the spoken English voice of some clueless tourist from Oklahoma looking to find the nearest McDonald's and asking for prices in "real money". But although I found that I could at least dictate street names in a given language if I switched the input "keyboard" to that language, the app always spoke that awful, ignorant English.

And then it occurred to me: switch the entire interface language of the phone! Set your iPhone's language to German and Google Maps will pronounce German place names correctly. Same story for Portuguese, Spanish, etc. Presumably Hungarian too; I'll have to try that in Budapest next time. And that may have an additional benefit: fewer puzzled looks when someone asks where I'm staying and I can't even pronounce the street name.

It's a little disconcerting now to see all my notifications on the phone in Portuguese. But that's also useful, as the puzzle pieces of the language are mostly falling into place these days, and the only time I get completely confused now is if someone drops a Portuguese bomb into the middle of an English sentence when I'm not expecting it. Street names make sense now; I'm less distracted by the navigation voice when I drive.

And if some level of discomfort means that I use the damned smartphone less, that's a good thing too.

(Kevin Lossner)

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