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Asia Minute: Video Interpretation Growing in Japan

Joshua Damasio

The pace of visitors coming to Hawaii has slowed since the first half of last year, but 2018 was still a record year. One challenge for the global tourism industry is dealing with different languages — especially in places like stores or restaurants. A Japanese company has now come up with one answer — which may be duplicated elsewhere.

Here’s a scene for some international visitors.

Say a couple is in a store — they have questions about a product, but don’t speak the local language. The clerk is friendly, but limited to his or her own language, or maybe a second one, perhaps a few phrases of a third. Rather than lose a sale, what if that couple could turn to a fluent interpreter to answer their questions in a lengthy conversation?

Japanese retailer Aeon is trying that — with a real-time interpretation service for face to face video chats.

Clerks at more than 500 stores are now carrying tablets or smartphones that can connect with interpreters in ten languages — from English and Chinese to Thai, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Portuguese, and more.

Some stores have used telephone chats to try to bridge the language gap, but adding the video element lets the interpreter see any product that sparks the curiosity of a prospective customer.

Video interpretation is a growth industry. is a website that covers what it calls the “translation and language technology markets” — and tracks industry trends. It says there is a sharp rise in demand for video interpretation — and not just in tourism and retail.

Two other booming markets: courtrooms and hospitals.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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