Problems with Automatic translators in Japan

The use of automatic translators is not just limited to menus, it is used in many other day to day situations with business travelers and tourists alike. On a recent trip to Japan my friend and I had an issue with the air conditioning in our hotel (it had decided to set itself to maximum heat and would not turn off). I’d attempted to use Google’s translation app to decipher the meaning of all of the buttons, and in this case it did a reasonable job. It told me buttons were on and off, hot or cold, fan power etc., but in any case, no combination of the buttons on the remote could solve the problem.

The offending AC remote
Google’s Translate app in action

We went to the desk to talk to the staff who, unfortunately, spoke no English. The friendly receptionist was eager to help us, and so whipped out her phone and began speaking into the Yahoo automatic translation app. After about two minutes of her talking, it came back with just a few words, none of which made any sense. This went on for a while and we realised we were getting nowhere fast. Our translations from English to Japanese confused the hell out of her, and vice versa! Fortunately, my friend Matt speaks Korean, which seems to be much easier for a computer to translate to Japanese and she understood what he’d written immediately. The problem was solved by us moving to another room, but not after a painfully lengthy and awkward conversation.


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