Moving to a foreign country can be a real challenge. This is especially true if you don’t speak the language of the country. When I made the decision to move to Panama in 2002, one of the things that went through my mind was how I could use technology to assist in my language adjustment.
I had used a Palm type PIM (Personal Information Manager) for a long time. I call it my more dependable brain. Before coming to Panama I did a search for software for the Palm that would provide me with an English to Spanish dictionary. I downloaded several different products and tried them out. The one I settled on was from a company named Ultralingua. The product is designed for both Palm and Pocket PC devices, but I find that the Palm devices are typically a little smaller and provide all the function I need. The Palm requires you to learn its scrip language to enter words, since it doesn’t have a keyboard. Not to worry! It won’t take long to learn and when you do, it is faster than a keyboard.
You can tell from looking at my Palm (Actually, mine is a Palm branded as an IBM WorkPad), that it has had a lot of hard use.
I have it enclosed in an aluminum protective case.
I usually carry it in my right hip pants pocket, so the case needs to be strong. Even with that protection, over the years I still have a screen problem caused by dropping the device several times. Nonetheless, it still works and is still a part of my daily life. However, I have started looking for a newer replacement. I have been considering a cell phone that has the same functions such as the Palm Treo (Windows or Palm Powered).
One of these PIM’s with an English to Spanish dictionary is not going to be a replacement for learning the language, but it can get you out of a difficult spot. For instance, I could go into a store and when the attendant comes up and asks how they can help, I usually say I need an “fill in the blank”. Necesito un“—-“.
Assume that it is an envelope that I am looking for, I would enter “envelope” in the Palm and it would give me “sobre”. And I would say, “Necesito un sobre”. You get the idea.
When I bought my current PIM, I bought it on eBay for about $65. I am sure the next one I buy will cost more, especially if it is built into a cell phone. However, I think the phone would be nice, because I would carry it in a case on my belt and it wouldn’t need as durable a case as it would if I were going to carry it in my hip pocket. Besides, it would allow me to carry one less thing.
The Ultralingua software is going to cost $29 for a Palm or Pocket PC. If you aren’t used to using a PIM, I think you will find plenty of other uses besides just a language translator. You are going to need a place to store all the names, addresses and emails of all the friends you have left in your home country so you can write them and tell them what they are missing. You won’t have to worry about having a pad of paper to record the phone number for the “house for sale sign” on the property you see that you want to check on. And when you are sitting in a waiting room, you will have a solitaire game you can play to pass the time. Every Sunday at 9:00, mine tells me it is time to wind the clocks. If it didn’t, I am sure they would run down.
If you are thinking about moving to Panama and you don’t speak Spanish, I suggest considering one of these PIMs with an English to Spanish dictionary. It won’t remove your needing to learn Spanish, but it will help you during your transition.