Japan is unique in many ways and this is reflected and expressed in its culture and its challenging language. Japanese is controversially an Altaic language spoken by around 127 million people. Its intrinsic characteristics make it a challenge for machine translation and other forms of translation automation, although Pangeanic, in collaboration with Toshiba, has reported several advances in hybrid MT (as published in the Asian Association of Machine Translation in 2011) and presented in Japan Translation Festival (see presentation here).
Making calls to other countries a challenge for Japanese speakers: locals often don’t have much choice but to learn someone else’s language or hope there’s a Japanese speaker on the other end of the line.
All going well, NTT DoCoMo’s planned Hanashite Hon’yaku automatic translation service, international calls will be as comfortable as phoning a store in Nagano. As long as a subscriber has at least an Android 2.2 phone or tablet on the carrier’s moperaU or sp-mode plans, the service will automatically convert spoken Japanese to another language, and reverse the process for the reply, whether it’s through an outbound phone call or an in-person conversation.
The service is scheduled to operate from 1st November, when it will translate from Japanese to Chinese / English / Korean. Machine translation from Japanese into other European languages like French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish plus two more Asian languages (Indonesian and Thai) will be added for this application in late November, raising the number of non-Japanese languages to 10, according to NTT Docomo’s press release.
If you are not so patient, NTT DoCoMo will provide a holdover on October 11th through Utsushite Hon’yaku, a free Word Lens-like augmented reality translator for Android 2.3 that can convert text to or from Japanese with a glance through a phone camera.
The app will be available free of charge. Users pay call and data charges for phone-to-phone conversations and translation data for screen text and voice readouts. Only data charges apply for face-to-face conversations,since no call is required. Subscription to DOCOMO’s “sp-mode” or “moperaU” connection service is required.
Translation is virtually instantaneous after the device’s camera captures the text. This commercial version of Menu Translator, which DOCOMO is trialing in Japan until October 31, will translate words and phrases not only in menus, but also street signs, signboards and more. Translation from Japanese also is possible, so DOCOMO expects the app to be quite useful for foreign people visiting Japan.
The Utsushite Hon’yaku Japanese machine translation app will be available free for download (data charges may apply). Usage will not incur any transmission fee since the translation process does not require network connection. It can be used on any smartphone or tablet equipped with an outer camera and running Android 2.3 or higher.