Japanese translation app helps tourists shop, order food and more

Rolled out for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the app's 700 preset phrases can help users in situations such as shopping

NTT DoCoMo wants travelers to Japan to say more than just "sayonara" when they hear Japanese.

The mobile carrier is introducing an app that can instantly translate spoken Japanese into English and other languages and vice versa.

Compared to Google Translate and other translation apps, Jspeak has more detailed and dedicated phrases for situations that travelers often encounter, according to the company.

"For instance, if a traveler goes to a restaurant or a hospital, it will have some appropriate phrases for those situations," a DoCoMo spokeswoman said.

The app comes with a list of more than 700 phrases such as "What dishes are recommended?" to provide more situation-specific translation help. Users can also save their favorite translations to play them whenever the need arises.

Jpeak, which is being rolled out ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, will also translate Japanese into Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai, and vice versa.

It's meant to give users a more tailored and accurate experience than bare-bones translation apps, which can be iffy at the best of times when it comes to accurate translation -- especially with Japanese, which has an unusually high number of homophones. iTranslate can render the set phrase "Yoroshiku onegaishimasu" (please treat me well) as "thank you."

Translation apps can even mistake one language for another. For example, Google Translate can misinterpret the spoken Japanese phrase "Kyo wa ame desu ne" (It's going to rain today) as the English sentence "Yo, I need a snack," for which it provides a botched, nearly meaningless Japanese translation.

Jspeak is based on DoCoMo's translation app launched two years ago, Hanashite Hon'yaku, which uses the company's cloud-based servers to process translations. It can be used both as a translation device for people when face-to-face as well as users having a phone conversation.

Hanashite Hon'yaku picked up a 2013 mobile app award from CTIA, a lobbying group for the wireless industry, for being the "world's first automatic voice translation service," and has had over 6.6 million downloads.

While Hanashite Hon'yaku was only available to DoCoMo customers, Jspeak will be available to a wider set of users when it launches on Google Play on Monday. It will be available for US$0.99 for one week or $2.99 for one month.

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