National

Tokyo police step up efforts to bolster multilingual assistance

Kyodo

With the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics less than a year away, Tokyo police are stepping up efforts to strengthen their foreign language assistance.

Aiming to improve police officers’ ability to provide directions, handle lost property claims and deal with other issues in foreign languages, the Metropolitan Police Department has been offering staff English conversation lessons. It has also been teaching them how to use a 29-language translation app, which officers stationed at kōban (police boxes) can utilize on their mobile devices.

It is hoped the recently introduced efforts will ease the burden on the department’s interpretation center, which handles cases that require foreign language communication.

Ayako Fujioka, 36, has volunteered to give lessons to fellow officers, holding several sessions every month since April and focusing on things like giving directions and offering other assistance in English.

A few dozen officers, mainly working at local police boxes, take part in each lesson. Among them, Yumeno Asaka, 23, said she has attended every one of the lessons.

“The English words I learned here helped me out when I was asked for directions to a tourism facility,” Asaka said.

By improving language skills, the Metropolitan Police Department hopes more of its officers will be able to provide direct assistance in foreign languages without relying on the interpretation center.

Some 45,000 cases requiring response and assistance in foreign languages were handled by the interpretation center in 2018 — a 50 percent increase from 2014 — according to the department.

From June, the translation app capable of audio translation in nine languages, including Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese, was provided on a total of 5,000 mobile phones and distributed to officers who regularly perform community patrols. The app can display written translations in an additional 20 languages.

The department plans to strengthen the interpretation center’s operations during the Tokyo Games, which start in July next year, by rearranging the shifts of officers stationed there.

“We are doing what we can so that visitors can enjoy their stay without stress,” said one senior official at the department.

Since 2015, the department has been providing monthlong intensive language lessons for officers with foreign language skills who don’t work at the interpretation center to help them maintain their skills.

Since Tokyo was selected as the 2020 Olympic venue in 2013, the government and private companies such as public transport operators have been preparing for a sharp increase in foreign visitors, by putting up more signs in multiple languages, boosting abilities to provide emergency information to non-Japanese speakers and developing smartphone apps for foreign visitors.

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