Last year at CEATEC, we saw NTT DoCoMo demo its translation app, which made life easier by translating a Japanese menu into English text. This time around the carrier is showing off the new Hanashite Hon'yaku service for Android devices, which can translate spoken Japanese to English and vice versa (it supports a total of 10 languages, including French, German and Korean). In addition to providing an on-screen translation, the system reads out your speaking partner's words in your language.To use the service, you need an Android-enabled (2.2 and higher) device running on either the carrier's spumode or moperaU plan. Provided you fit those requirements, you'll simply have to dial the other party, speak into the phone and wait for it to play back your words in a foreign tongue.
Of course, you can also use the service in person, which is exactly what we did at DoCoMo's booth. When we gave it a test run with some simple questions ("Where are you from?", "What time is it?"), the app had no trouble spitting back those phrases in Japanese so the DoCoMo rep could respond. When he answered in Japanese, the translation to English was equally seamless, taking just a second or two to communicate that he is from Japan. Though the app is free, you'll have to pay call and data charges (using the service for face-to-face conversation only entails a data fee). The cross-cultural barriers will break down starting November 1st, but you can get a glimpse of the service in action just after the break.