By José Antonio Martinez Aviles

Could you imagine being able to speak to a Japanese person on the phone without either of you knowing each other’s languages? Well, now it is possible!

An application has been created which provides real-time translations, allowing Japanese people to telephone abroad and for both parties to use their own language.

NTT DoCoMo, the leading mobile phone operator in Japan, has developed an application for Android devices called “Hon Hanashite Yaku”, which allows you to translate telephone conversations in real time. The tool translates each sentence of the conversation after a short pause, and a text transcript is included.

This product has the potential to save companies a lot of money. Whereas currently, many companies employ specially trained multilingual staff, they will now be able to reduce costs by using this new application for conference calls with their international partners. It is hoped that the application will be widely used and particularly in the tourism industry.

To download the application for free, these telephone customers must be subscribed to a data package, because the tool uses remote servers to process information.

This new form of translation, which was presented at the CEATEC technology exhibition, will be released this month and will enable users to translate between Japanese and English, Mandarin and Korean. Ten more languages will be added soon, including some European languages.

Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? What about the quality of the interpreting though? As you would expect, this type of software application doesn’t offer a perfect translation, which limits its use in certain situations. It faces the same problems as machine translation….it is not controlled by a human being.

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Japanese is a notoriously difficult language to get to grips with and learners of English certainly believe it is no picnic understanding the grammatical ins and outs of the language. Can software really do the job of a trained language professional?

Telephone interpreting achieves the same goal – allowing two people who speak different languages to communicate freely – but it is done through professional interpreters who have worked hard to ensure they are excellent at what they do. Japanese is a tonal language and any conversation in any language benefits from intonation on words and phrases. How can a machine translation software interpret not just the language but also the inflection and tone of a person’s voice?

Can you really trust a machine to do a human’s job? That is not to say that technology is not advancing and that it cannot do amazing things but when important business dealings can rest on just one conversation, why risk it?

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