Jan 13 2010
When people ask me about my mixed and exotic heritage (at least twice a month), they inevitably ask, “Oh, so do you speak Ukrainian? Or Italian? Or Albanian?” And invariably, I say something to the extent of, “Well, I know how to say ‘thank you’ and ‘I love you,’ in Ukrainian, but more than that, I know how to say a handful of vulgar profanities involving farm animals in Italian.” And it’s true – don’t get me angry, lest the inner, feisty Jersey-Italian comes out. It’s not pretty. It’s gross, actually.
In fact, it bums me out to have such a limited – and barbaric – handle of these languages from the motherland. But aside from hanging out with the distant, unrefined Italian side of the family (they tend to jump into swimming pools fully clothed and with a cigarette in their mouth) how could I improve my language skills in a fun and competitive way? Oh, Translationzilla, where have you been all my life?
Translationzilla lets you compare your language skills with your friends and other language enthusiasts, and it currently supports English, Spanish, French, Chinese, and Italian. Ahhh che è meraviglioso!
As a first-time user, I clicked on the FAQ page. The page was simply laid out with five questions, each with short, effective responses. They are:
- What is rank status? – zilla points measure your skill for a particular language pair and difficulty level. They are calculated based on your accuracy and the speed of translation. As your average zilla points per game increases, your skills improve and your rank status increases. Everybody starts with the rank status “Bum!”
- What are badges? – If you reach a certain number of zilla points for a particular test you can earn bronze, silver or gold badges.
- What are zilla points? – zilla points measure your skill for a particular language pair and difficulty level. They are calculated based on your accuracy and the speed of translation.
- How does it work? – As registered user you take timed translation tests, and compare the resulting score with other friends and language enthusiasts.
- What is translationzilla? – Translationzilla lets you compare your language skills with your friends and other language enthusiasts.
Sufficiently prepped – yet still woefully lacking any skill whatsoever in Italian – I threw caution to the wind and went to the Game page.
On this screen, I could choose my level (Beginner 1), and my translation options. I chose from English to Spanish (yes, I chickened out; and, in my defense, I do know a bit of Spanish from a stint “working” on a “fishing boat” in Nicaragua in the mid 80s.) And for those interested in the rules, you can read up on them as well. The game was totally fun. It spit out a bunch of simple nouns rapid-fire style (e.g. body, sky, beef) and I had to type in the translation in Spanish. And the clock was ticking! My scores? Not so not. My “zilla points” was a feeble 34.5, and what’s worse was that I didn’t even earn a badge. Translationzilla was there at the bottom on the page, staring at me. Judging me. Dios mio. Did I mention it was totally fun?
A sucker for punishment, I checked out some more advanced levels, recognizing this could be a wonderful educational tool for children and adults alike. I wanted to get beyond simple nouns and into the dangerous, exotic world of grammar, sentences, and verb tenses. Well, the fine folks at Translationzilla were a step ahead of me. There was actually a level called Kids. Since I consider my emotional development to be on the level of a 9-year old, I gave it a shot. And boy, was I not kidding! My zilla points were 175, I earned a silver badge, and Translationzilla himself gave me the thumb’s up! He likes me! He really likes me!
Registering is fun too (and free.) By doing so, you can see all the top-ranked participants, a newsfeed of notable developments (e.g. “User A has earned a silver badge!” or “Mike S. learned an Italian word that doesn’t slander an entire village’s family!” You can also track your badges and own rank.
Now about the site design. It’s clean and crisp, without any clutter. And I love Translationzilla himself. (TZ to his Mesozoic friends.) Kind of like Godzilla-meets-a-crocodile-with-a-love-for-languages. He’s adorable, yet in his eyes is a very, very vague trace of menace that no one can really take seriously because you soon realize it’s not menace, but mischief. He’s like a reptilian linguistic James Dean. And in an age when such visuals are important for branding (think of the ubiquitous Twitter bird-thing), he’s a great asset, especially in targeting children. He also does weddings, birthday parties, and bar mitzvahs.
Now how about some global navigation comments?
- On the home page navigation bar, moving left to right, “Game” is first, followed by “Home” to the right. I’d switch’em, putting “Home” flushed left. We read left-to-right, and for me, it makes a bit more intuitive sense to have “Home” as the first option.
- Similarly, on the FAQ page I’d re-order the questions so that “What is translationzilla?” – currently at the bottom – is at the top and “How does it work?” is second. Makes a bit more intuitive sense as subsequent questions are a bit more specific and proprietary in nature (e.g. “What is rank status?,” “What are badges?”)
- Regarding the game, after my dismal showing – no badge! – I was curious as to what questions I got right, and those I got wrong. As a guest – I wasn’t registered – I could not see those results. And when I did register – unless I was missing something – I could not see the correct answers either. I feel this would be a great addition.
So quote me on this: Translationzilla will be a hit with the kids. It’s fun, simple, entertaining, and easy-to-use. Translationzilla himself is a patient teacher. Like Yoda, like Mr. Miyagi. (Can a merchandising juggernaut be far behind? Translationzilla backpacks? Pillow cases? Lunch boxes? Can openers?) But after spending some time on the site, I realized Translationvilla is for everyone: college students (especially) and adults who simply want to improve their language skills without a lot of bells and whistles. As an (emotional under-developed) adult myself, Translationzilla certainly spoke to me. Better yet, it inspired me. I now realize there’s more to the Italian language than vulgar slang, grotesque hand guestures, and crude references to centuries-old Old-Country vendettas. Heck, if Translationzilla can erase decades of ignorance and ameliorate generations of bitterness and your-great-grandfather-stole-my-goat grievences, just imagine what it can do for you.