NEC and Sumitomo Develop App for Multilingual Workplaces

Sumitomo Mitsui Construction and the Japanese IT and electronics company NEC have partnered up to create a translation app that should allow for smoother and more efficient communication within multilingual workspaces. Currently the app, called DokoMinaPhone, only allows for translation between Japanese and English. However, there are plans to add additional languages to its repertoire in the coming months.

The app was originally created for use on construction sites in Japan, which, due to an increasingly globalized environment, are employing a growing number of international workers, according to a blog post from NEC published on March 30. The app is equipped with a neural machine translation (NMT) engine that was developed at Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). The NICT conducts research on translation technology, with a special emphasis on developing technology that can provide more natural and accurate translations between Japanese and other languages.

Users can send voice messages to other workers on the job, which are then translated using the NICT’s NMT engine (users receive both the original voice message and a translated voice message produced using speech synthesis that emulates the human voice). Text transcriptions are also sent alongside the voice messages. The app is particularly notable for its broadcast function which allows a given user to send out announcements to the entire group of workers — each member of the workplace will receive the message in their preferred language, along with the original message and a reverse translation, which allows users to verify the accuracy of the translation they received.

As the app gains traction in the construction industry, NEC plans to expand its use in other industries as well. The company is also working to implement hands-free operation (taking into account worker safety on construction sites), as well as improving the app’s dictionary of technical terminology. In the coming months, NEC will collect feedback from workers who have used the app in order to continue improving the app’s quality and ensuring that translations are as accurate as can be.

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.


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