Checking out of his hotel in Shimbashi, with time to spare before a flight back to Vancouver, Steve Kaufmann stops to read a sign in the lobby, which reads: "I have refused the entrance into a room of these other than the visitor of stay. Please give me a meeting in the lobby. Thank you."

Interestingly, he is more amused than upset by the translation. "You can understand what they are getting at, right?" Well, yes, maybe, but is that good enough? As a linguist, he thinks so. "Language is primarily about communication, not grammatical accuracy. If the message gets across, then it's made its point." Born of Jewish parents who escaped to Sweden from Czechoslovakia in 1939, and then emigrated to Canada when he was 5 years old, Kaufmann has never had a problem with languages.

"One of my earliest memories was of my mother pointing out the names of flowers in English on the boat coming over to Canada, and then speaking English with new friends, so I guess the transition was pretty seamless.