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I hate it when I don't know how to pronounce a food's name in a restaurant

So I'm trying to get crowdfunding for an app that'll help with that. Maybe nobody else wants something like this, we'll see, but I had to try it.


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  1. If you're planning on having people pronounce "gnocchi" as "nyawk-kee" then I see the app opening up a new set of problems.

    12 Replies
    1. re: ferret

      I'm planning on researching everything thoroughly for the finished version. These are preliminary screen designs.

      1. re: ferret

        And just out of curiosity, how would you pronounce "gnocchi"?

            1. re: kagemusha49

              If nyockey is meant to rhyme with hockey, then nyawk-kee is actually somewhat closer to the Italian, as long as nyawk doesn't rhyme with Noo Yawk. The vowel is more like the a in law.

                1. re: ferret

                  I guess with this kind of thing, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. But whatever the case, it'll give you a general idea. And if you're still totally clueless, there's the audio for you.

                  1. re: ferret

                    That looks closer to me. I took one Italian class a couple of years ago, and the Italian "o" seems to be pronounced somewhere in between a short "o" and a long "o" - an uncomfortable place for English-speakers. Doing the long "o" might work best when in doubt.

              1. re: vilaghalo

                I would go for the (improbable) nywki. Looks strange, but by doing it that way I'm trying to force English speakers to avoid the excessively long o and excessively long, heavy "key". It's not perfect, but possibly closer. Phonetics is hard, though; English is not good with romance-language words that use the light vowel sounds; english tends to be either short and flat (as in the o in "hot") or long and heavy (as in the o in "vote"). Sandylc is right that it's really in the middle.

                1. re: AlexRast

                  I think the correct version is to take a good slug of wine, raise your fist, raise your voice, and say nyochee-hey! here's a few pronunciations in 7 seconds:

                  I once ordered something "oh-ox-okken" in a mex restaurant, and was corrected and slightly embarrassed. Ten years later, I went to Oaxaca City.

                  vilaghalo - this could be applied when the entire description is displayed in the foreign language in an American Restaurant. Like "gnocchi con funghi e salsiccia." Some people simply avoid what they cannot ascertain and just order something familiar (Pad Thai syndrome). Some people will not be afraid to ask or will point (like cresyd). Some people will want to know, but are afraid to ask - I guess those are your target.

                  One thing I've noticed, and this is an aside, that servers in Viet restaurants seem very happy when you try to say it in their language. I don't often experience that. Maybe it is Buddhism.

                  1. re: rudeboy

                    I hope I can convert the "Pad Thai syndrome" people with the app.

                    And yeah, sometimes I just don't order something that I can't confidently pronounce. And thinking about it, it's not that I'm afraid. Just not confident enough, and that bothers me. Of course if there's something I really want to try I will just point, but why not avoid that.

              2. Honestly - I think that such an app would lead to more confusion. If I'm trying to pronounce a word that's new to me, it takes way more than just seeing a phonetic pronunciation. I need to practice saying it, hear others say it, etc.

                When I've had meetings with individuals with Irish names that I'm not sure how to pronounce based on spellings, I will check online for a phonetic guide but I never have faith that I've gotten it right. It's more a way to mumble the name quickly until I've heard it said.

                8 Replies
                1. re: cresyd

                  Please take another look at the app description. You'll see that the main feature is not the phonetic transcription, but the audio file that plays when you tap a button.

                  1. re: vilaghalo

                    Tap on the appropriate button on a food item's info page - the app will then ask you to move your phone to your ear and once it senses that you did, it'll discreetly play an audio recording of the correct pronunciation.

                    The phonetic thing is just a quick and easy solution when you have very little time to check out the audio. It's better than saying "nawchee" or something, no?

                    1. re: vilaghalo

                      Yeah...I guess my main point was that the times I'm truly concerned about not being able to pronounce something correctly is not in a restaurant situation where I'd feel necessary to play an audio file.

                      Personally, I am not bothered by pointing on a menu to what I'd like if I'm uncertain about pronouncing a word. Maybe it's due to living abroad where servers couldn't always understand my accent - but that level of concern to want to practice saying a word with an audio file in a restaurant is not an urge I would have.

                      1. re: cresyd

                        I totally understand your point. To each his own. But as a person who, at times, didn't order something because of uncertainty regarding pronunciation, I sure would love something like this. This issue always kept popping up, and after a few of my friends told me that sometimes they feel the same, I figured I can at least try to make this thing a reality.

                        1. re: vilaghalo

                          Aside from my disinterest - I think another thing to take into serious consideration is how much you want "accent" to play a role. For a food item like gyro - there are folks who pronounce it like 'euro' and those who pronounce 'yeero'. While it's very rare for people to agree on saying 'ji-ro', the euro/yeero debate (to me) is largely about how much of a Greek accent a speaker chooses. Another case is pho - while I think it's moderately well understood to be pronounced 'fuh', I know a lot of people who know that but still refer to it as 'foh'.

                          Basically, a high percentage of uncertain food words are due to be foreign items. So how 'accented' you want to say something may vary. Think of words like mozzarella and risotto - there's an American accent way of saying those words and then people like Giada that drop into an Italian accent when they say the word. In the US, neither is objectively 'wrong' - but it is a choice of whether you want to include all native accents on how to pronounce words or American accented versions.

                          1. re: cresyd

                            Thanks, these are very good points. With these kind of problematic pronunciations, I'm torn between using the original, "native" pronunciation or using the most popular (decided upon after serious research) pronunciation for the given market - for the first version of the app, the American market.

                            1. re: vilaghalo

                              One could just hand the server the phone and test his or her understanding of the proper pronunciation. J/K, though I would agree that the first version would be for the American Market. If you are in the ballpark with a single pronunciation, that would be fine (not like a debate will occur at the table about the proper pronunciation of gnocchi). I can see needing to build a fairly complicated database to account for regional differences, with the user having to select.

                              1. re: rudeboy

                                If the app ever gets made, and enough people will use it, I'm totally planning on adding different database options (also for the phonetic transcriptions), and a more informative (but unobtrusive) page for the food items. But for version 1, I'm keeping it simple.

                  2. It is no sin or shame to just ask your server. Jeez.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: sparrowgrass

                      You're absolutely right. But If I can avoid that somehow, it's even better.

                      1. re: vilaghalo

                        Even if you can pronounce a word, will you always know what it means?

                        If one would use his/her phone to try your app, simply doing an internet search for that word would bring up phonetic pronunciations and definitions.

                        I'm not ashamed though, so there's no problem in asking a server on this end.

                        1. re: BuildingMyBento

                          "If one would use his/her phone to try your app, simply doing an internet search for that word would bring up phonetic pronunciations and definitions."

                          I've answered this before, so I'm just going to qoute myself.

                          "When designing the app, I wanted to create an experience that's tailor-made for the restaurant. The dark design was made with a dimly-lit setting in mind, so it's easy on your eyes. Offline audio and phonetic transcription is for when you're vacationing in a place with unstable or nonexistent internet connection. Playing audio files discreetly via the call speaker, so you don't accidentally play it too loud. A gallery with high-quality images for times when you're not sure what that exotic-sounding dish is. I believe these are all great features that'll make your experience go smoother than it would with a general purpose app with too much unnecessary information or doing a search on Google which will sometimes give you unreadable phonetic transcription, a Flash audio player that won't work on your phone, and so on."

                          I guess this app idea is just one of those things that either makes you go "why would I need this" or "oh yeah, this happens to me all the time, I feel this is a minor annoyance, and if this app can provide a solution for that, that's great".

                      2. re: sparrowgrass

                        Personally, I just go this route. I have no shame in asking (what is the big deal). I often dine with friends as well, and will just ask them. I don't like pulling out my phone during a meal, period (unless an emergency of course).

                        1. re: sparrowgrass

                          Ahh, the old "horse pill" of pride . . . .

                          1. re: MGZ

                            Sorry I don't understand that analogy. Pride in what? Not being afraid to ask the server how to say something or asking my friends how something should be said??

                              1. re: linguafood

                                Indeed - As well as anyone who is afraid to ask or be wrong.

                                1. re: MGZ

                                  Oh goodness, thanks for clarifying :) I was very confused for a minute. Silly me, I am sorry!

                        2. I don't understand why you couldn't just Google the information instead of using an app. Google is free. Or use a free online dictionary - many of those have audio available for pronunciation.

                          Also you may try posting this under "Chowhounds Wanted" if you're truly looking for feedback.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: NonnieMuss

                            You could use Google, but it would take a helluva lot more time. What if it's too slow, or it directs you to a page that has incorrect information. With a dedicated app, you know the info is good.

                            Also, what if you don't have internet? The app can work offline.

                            1. re: vilaghalo

                              I find opening safari and typing a word into the search bar tends to be quicker than opening an app. I understand you're into this idea, but I just don't see it being a thing I would use. Best of luck though - my husband wrote his own app and it's a lot of work, then a lot of work to update and maintain it, but we probably only cleared around $19 off of it over three years.

                              1. re: NonnieMuss

                                That's personal preference, I guess. I tend to avoid using safari if I can. And it's useless when, for example, you're vacationing in a small Italian village, and there's no internet connection at all.

                                Yeah, I understand that it's hard work, I make a living in the industry as a designer. But once the major features are done, it's no biggie to update the app with new content once in a while.

                                The money thing is not really an issue, I don't plan to become rich off this app. :) It's just something that I would really like to use, and also a good addition to my portfolio. So basically it'll have networking and self-marketing value.

                          2. I'd rather have it tell me what the dish is. Can you include a brief description?

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: junescook

                              That's actually a feature planned for a later version - if the app ever becomes a reality, of course. I want to have the option to "flip" the info page to reveal more information about the given food item. But done in a way that the focus of the app will still be food name pronunciation.

                              1. re: vilaghalo

                                I had a book from the 60's that gave dating pointers and listed some unusual foods that a date may encounter. For "Chicken Parmesan" it described it (and I'm only paraphrasing a bit) as "chicken prepared in the style of Parma, Italy."

                            2. If I can't pronounce it I just point to the entry in the menu.

                              1. My dictionary app already does this.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: 512window

                                  Does it work offline?

                                  Can it play audio files (recorded specifically for saying food names correctly) discreetly, so you won't look weird making an app play sounds when in the restaurant?

                                  Does it have a dedicated gallery with high-quality images for each food item?

                                  I'm not saying my app necessary for survival of our species and there are absolutely no alternatives, but I can say with confidence that if it ever gets done, it'll be tailor-made for the restaurant experience.

                                  1. re: vilaghalo

                                    It works on my phone so it doesn't have to be on a wireless network. You type the word in and push the button and it pronounces the word. It's as loud as you have the phone set for.

                                    You also get the definition at the same time. You get phonetic spellings of the pronunciation. There are buttons for Synonyms, example sentences, and word origin.

                                    Of course it doesn't have a "dedicated gallery with high-quality images for each food item" - it's a dictionary. You weren't asking for that either.

                                    If you're going to invest time into making an app, you should have a sense of who you'll be competing with. For me it's Dictionary.com with sound by Nuance.

                                    1. re: 512window

                                      That's exactly it. For me, some of the features you mentioned are just unnecessary and just get in the way when trying to look up a pronunciation as quickly as possible. I don't need synonyms and stuff like that when in a restaurant setting, but instead, I could sure benefit from a few cool high-quality pics, helping me decide what to eat (especially if I'm not a master chef and know every dish under the sun).

                                2. Bummer.

                                  I just use itranslate. Or butcher the word, but I can deal with being wrong at times.

                                    1. re: EM23

                                      Yeah, but is it tailor-made for the restaurant experience? I didn't download it, so I'm only judging by the forvo app's size (1,6 mb) but it seems to me that it needs internet connection to get the audio. Also, no gallery, no discrete audio using the call speaker, etc.

                                      Again, I'm not saying there aren't any other solutions for pronunciation - I'm saying that for some people, me for example, there is something to be gained from an app that's focused on solving this particular annoyance as quickly and effectively as possible with user experience and features designed with a specific scenario in mind.

                                      1. re: vilaghalo

                                        I’m not trying to shoot down your app idea - just suggesting that you check out forvo.com, a very popular site that offers multiple pronunciations by native speakers. Your app might do the same, specifically for food. Good luck :)
                                        Gnocchi (scroll down for all) http://www.forvo.com/word/gnocchi/

                                        1. re: EM23

                                          I didn't take it that way. This discussion has been very helpful.
                                          Forvo is very cool site in itself. But I have some major problems with it, the biggest being that I can't use it offline.
                                          It's also a bit cluttered, no food pics (which I'm sure we all love :)), etc, so all the standard issues of a general purpose dictionary.

                                          1. re: EM23

                                            I clicked on this link and got a headache for a second (considering trying to use it in a restaurant). If I were sitting at my computer wanting to know, forvo might work. I wouldn't use vilaghalo's app myself, but maybe there's a demographic that might - once vilaghalo determines the market that would, how to construct, and crowdfunding potential, then a business decision can be made. Maybe someone would be willing to piggyback a database. We're just here to help.

                                            I'm trying to think of what my initial reaction would be to someone proposing this app: a game where you shoot ill-tempered birds of various types by slingshot into grunting pigs!

                                            1. re: rudeboy

                                              Yeah, these dictionaries are all like that, unfortunately. They were all made years ago when we didn't really have the tech to make them less cluttered. And now, it would be super-expensive to just change the design, so they just leave them like that.

                                              The bird-pig app sounds like the stupidest idea ever, nobody would play with that!

                                      2. Thanks to everyone for their comments. Some very important points were brought up.

                                        Judging from the comments, I think it's important for me to create some kind of a FAQ on the Indiegogo page to help explain the differences between my app and a general purpose dictionary solution, and I need to emphasize the advantages of a user experience that's tailor-made for a specific scenario, in this case, the restaurant setting. (The dark design, for example, is not an accident either - it's been created with a dimly lit area in mind so it doesn't hurt your eyes, and that's just one, small thing.)

                                        So thank you again for the useful discussion.

                                        1. Frankly, I'm never really fussed whether I'm pronouncing a word correctly. So long as I've been able to understand the menu and the server can understand my attempt at pronounciation, then I reckon we're both fine. I reckon that, if I'm in a place where English is often spoken, then the server is likely to have heard others offer my attempt. And, if I'm in a place where English is not spoken, then then server will understand that I'm a foreigner making a best effort.

                                          1. Good luck, I hope you find success. Report back someday and let us know how it goes, ok?

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: MGZ

                                              Judging from the feedback so far, there's absolutely no interest in this app whatsoever. People either don't care about pronouncing correctly, or using other methods. There's still more than a month 'till the deadline though, but yeah, I don't expect it to go anywhere. I don't mind because I really enjoyed creating the designs.

                                              1. re: vilaghalo

                                                The feedback is sensible and solid, but this ain't really your market. Hardcore 'hounds would go to dinner in clown make up, giant shoes and all, if that meant they'd get better eats.

                                                To put it another way, I'd invest in the app, but I'd never use it.

                                                1. re: vilaghalo

                                                  People care about correct pronunciation but not knowing won't stop this crowd. The app is a neat idea but I personally wouldn't use it.

                                                  1. re: vilaghalo

                                                    Don't get discouraged. Sometimes an idea will morph into something else. I was remodeling my house once and was changing the floorplan. A friend came by and very bluntly said "I don't think that this should be a hallway." I got nearly mad at first b/c the comment didn't jive with my current thought. Guess what? That didn't become the hallway and it is a better design......at least you are trying something that most of us don't.

                                                    Maybe call the app "Concierge." Build a database of searchable menus for restaurants that want to participate and charge them a nominal fee. At home, the user says "I want Lamb" or "I want lamb and scallops." The app sends back all the lamb preparations, mapped, so the user can choose. That's something that would save us a lot of time. Usually, I get a craving for something specific at the last minute. Expand the app to music, the arts, etc. Much what a Concierge would do. I'll take 15% when it goes big!

                                                    1. re: rudeboy

                                                      Thanks. I'm not really discouraged. Honestly, I just enjoy thinking about apps and designing them. If nobody wants something like this, then so be it. This is cool about crowdfunding. You don't need to spend a huge amount of money on a finished product, only to see that not enough people are interested in it.

                                                    2. re: vilaghalo

                                                      I don't think its that people don't care about pronouncing things correctly. Its just not an impediment to ordering.

                                                      Also, you are taking the view that upon hearing the correct pronunciation for the first time, a user could repeat it. I would challenge that view. There are plenty of "foreign" dish names that I know how to say "correctly." When I've have tried to teach someone the correct way to say a dish, it can be amazing what comes back. If the person isn't familiar with the other language, s/he may not be able to repeat the sound no matter how many times s/he hears the "correct" version. I'm reminded of my first semester class in Italian when the instructor was going over "gli." Oh my the sounds that filled the room. Still makes me chuckle.

                                                      1. re: Bkeats

                                                        I'm actually taking the view that the app could, at the very least, point you in the right direction with your pronunciation. I'm not saying that after hearing the audio and reading the phonetic transcription, your pronunciation will be perfect. But at least you won't pronounce Foie gras like "foy grass" or something. :)

                                                  2. My honest view is that this app fits the solution in search of a problem paradigm. Sure I've seen menu items I can't figure out how to pronounce. Hell I've been in countries where I can't make out anything as the language is not even latin alphabet based. I've never had a problem with the point method and butchering the pronunciation. I've never seen the server cringe and cover her ears. If you are having a problem with this, I'd say don't worry about it. If you're going to try and make a business of this, well good luck.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: Bkeats

                                                      Well, I consider this more of an annoyance. I see so many apps successfully improve things like this, I thought, why not try it with food pronunciation. I would gladly use it.

                                                      1. re: Bkeats

                                                        I was thinking maybe it might be a "solution in search of a problem" too, since though I can't speak Italian, French or Spanish I know their spelling/pronunciation rules and can order off a menu. Well, goody goody for me … until I get a Vietnamese or Thai menu, then PLEASE send me that app! I've been lucky so far in that servers have been politely helpful, and heaven knows there's no real shame in not knowing how to pronounce something in a language with which you are totally unacquainted, but it would be nice to skip that moment, especially if I really learned how to say the word so if I liked the dish I could order it unaided in the future. Better yet, if I found a menu on line I could rehearse it up front!

                                                        1. re: Will Owen

                                                          Thank you. You raised a very good point that many seem to forget.

                                                          In my mind, a dedicated app which works offline -so is faster and more reliable- and contains well-researched info is always better than wading through a number of search results - if you even have internet on your phone. And in this case, speed is key. You don't wanna spend too much time on something like this, because then it becomes rude.

                                                      2. It does not bother me one iota. If I'm eating in a restaurant with food I'm unfamiliar with, I just pronounce phonetically (in English), share a laugh with the waiter when he tells me the correct pronunciation. I'm sure I'll botch the pronunciation the next time too.

                                                        1. You'd need to use IPA to avoid regional English accents from distorting the intended results.....

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Karl S

                                                            I always use IPA liberally, or even a good Double IPA, to improve my language ability.

                                                          2. I have no qualms whatsoever about asking a live person, the server, host, random bystander. I love apps (some of my best friends are apps) but I find it faster to ask then to get phone, tap, tap, tap.

                                                            But my husband and sons would probably go for such a thing. They have that mostly-male reluctance to just ask.