Today, a smartphone with a translation app can be an invaluable tool when travelling in a country where you don’t know the language, as testified by this article appearing today in the New York Times: “Lost in Translation -Try a Google App“. I recently had an experience of using Google Translate to communicate in Hindi with an auto-rickshaw driver and a security guard in Mumbai. The aforementioned article recounts a comparable experience of using a smart phone to communicate in Chinese while travelling in China. I should have read this article beforehand, it has very good advice.
My experience in Mumbai was encouraging, but limited. I was able to ask the rickshaw driver to take me to the bus station by showing him the Hindi translation provided by Google Translate. I was able to ask the security guard at the apartment where I was staying to give me the keys to the apartment. That was the encouraging part. However, I didn’t have the Hindi keyboard installed on the phone to receive answers, and there was no Hindi voice recognition available for Google Translate. That was the frustrating part. The article mentioned above gives tips for preparing better for your trip.
The important point is that we are at the beginning of a revolution in global communications where Machine Translation can bridge the language gap in everyday personal relations. My father was an Esperantist. Esperanto, a very simple artificial language, was his hope for an avenue to world peace. He felt that if people in different countries could communicate directly with each other through a common second language, mutual understanding would grow, and there would be less international conflict. It has turned out that English has come to represent that international second language, but it doesn’t appear so far to have reduced conflict. And knowing English is still beyond the educational level of most of humanity. Machine Translation will soon be able to provide a solution, at least for the practical needs of the traveler in foreign lands. As for world peace, it can’t hurt to hope.