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Online translation



New online technology breaks down communication barriers by giving simultaneous English to Japanese and Japanese to English translations. Richard Smith is tongue-tied from looking up the story.

How can you talk to somebody when you don't know each other's language? Even harder, how can you communicate online? And when you consider the added difficulty of communication between a Japanese speaker using kanji and kana, and an English speaker writing in romaji, the challenge is daunting indeed.

In Jan, Cafeglobe.com Ltd., a Tokyo-based Japanese online magazine that covers topics from politics to fashion as well as worldwide issues, launched a real-time bilingual service called "Women on the Globe." Women on the Globe's mission is to give opportunities to all women who wish to receive information from all over the world without worry of language barriers between English and Japanese. "Our name 'cafeglobe' is based on the idea of making a global café on the Internet for the purpose of enlightening women," says Akiko Okada of Cafeglobe.com. "Now we are mainly targeting Japanese women, but we would like to involve women who are living in other cultures, too."

This vanguard service is powered by Amikai, a Silicon Valley, US-based real-time language solutions provider for e-businesses and translation for companies in nine languages. Although there are already machines on the market that provide various degrees of written and audio translation, this service brings simultaneous translation online by allowing visitors to cafeglobe.com's webpage to communicate with anybody, anywhere in the world in English and Japanese, translation being done simultaneously from one language to the other. "According to our best knowledge, there is no other chat room in the world that provides simultaneous translation in any language," says communications specialist Tomono Kinjo of LBS in Tokyo, which does public relations for Amikai in Japan.

The service's menu is composed of three features. On the pioneering LinguaChat's chat room, the visitor's message is simultaneously translated and appears in both English and Japanese. This service is initially being offered three days a week for an hour on Tue, Wed and Thu from 11pm-12am at www.cafeglobe.com/cafe/wotg/index.html Discussions are devoted to topics selected each time by cafeglobe.com, such as "Are you afraid to use a credit card on the Internet" or "Do you respect your boss?"

Another feature is LinguaWeb, a real-time bilingual web browser that translates websites to and from English. Users can see both the original webpage and its translation, to help verification and improve language skills. Finally, LinguaText allows users to quickly translate texts to and from English and Japanese.

This is Amikai's second foray into online simultaneous translation, as the company already powers a free online translation site at www.excite.co.jp/world In addition to webpage and text translators similar to LinguaWeb and LinguaText, this site has a search engine that allows users, by typing a keyword, to access English-language sites, translated in Japanese with Amikai's technology. Users punch in a word in the keyword box and get a listing of English-language websites containing that word, with the summary translated in Japanese. Clicking on the site name accesses the web page, translated into Japanese. For example, look up the English word "investigation." The first site listed is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, so click on that and you get the FBI's web-page in Japanese. Or type in ryugaku (study abroad) in Japanese and get an English-language "study abroad" listing with summaries and web pages translated to Japanese. This feature is English-Japanese only.

Although the translations are often inaccurate and sometimes funny, they are extremely service-oriented and fulfill a most important need: communication.


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