Tokyo interpreting firm hopes to cash in on tourism boom with over-the-phone assistance

by Anna Masui


The operator of a Tokyo-based call center is expanding services to target municipalities and companies in need of interpreters to communicate with foreign residents, tourists and customers.

For two months from February, LanguageOne Corp. offered call-center services to hotels, restaurants and other tourism businesses in Semboku, Akita Prefecture, to help interpret their exchanges with foreign tourists in three languages — English, Chinese and Korean.

The service, for which the Semboku Municipal Government contracted LanguageOne, saw workers at hotels and restaurants call the company’s toll-free number to get interpretation assistance to better respond to foreign customers’ needs.

LanguageOne has received orders for a similar interpretation services from other governments in the Kyushu region and in Okinawa.

“The number of foreign tourists to Japan has shot up rapidly over recent years and demand for interpretation to Southeast Asian languages is especially growing,” LanguageOne President Taku Koyama, 57, said.

“Many local governments also seem to be looking for interpreters as they strengthen their efforts to attract more foreign tourists,” he said.

Koyama said the company aims to double the number of interpreters it employs, currently about 50, to some 100 by 2020, when the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held.

Since its establishment in last April, LanguageOne has provided a multilingual call-center service for hotels and railway companies among others to help tourists when they want to call ambulances, use ATMs or find automatic lockers at train stations.

It also translates letters and email messages.

The company works in seven languages, including English, Chinese and Thai, and plans to offer services in German, French and other European languages.

LanguageOne said it is struggling to find a sufficient number of competent interpreters. It hires foreigners who have obtained top grades in the Japanese proficiency test.

Interpreters at LanguageOne work with conversations that take place exclusively over the phone, a task that requires a high level of language proficiency, the company said.

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