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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Site Offers Language Aid for Tourists

Staff writer Japan Times Online
KYOTO — Perhaps the greatest concern of any international tourist, exchange student or even long-term expatriate is what happens if there is a medical emergency and a language barrier with the professionals who must deal with it?
News photo
Clearing the air: A woman looks at the M3 translation service Web site, which helps users pinpoint their physical maladies and have them translated to communicate with medical professionals. ERIC JOHNSTON PHOTO
A visit to a hospital or clinic where a patient is unable to communicate the problem can be frustrating, even frightening.
To overcome the communication barrier, a multilingual medical service was established last month by a Kyoto human rights group that allows anyone, at the touch of a few buttons, to explain what's wrong with them in one of five languages, and get a printout with their symptoms translated into Japanese that can be presented to a Japanese nurse or doctor.
The M3 Mediated Multilingual Medical Communication Support System was created by the Center for Multicultural Society Kyoto in cooperation with Wakayama University. On the M3 Web site, visitors can explain their condition in English, Chinese, Portuguese, Korean, Indonesian, Japanese and simple Japanese, all written in hiragana.
After logging onto the site, visitors first identify their sex. From there, they can click a Web page with various questions and a map of their body. Visitors click on the area where there is a problem, and select specific symptoms and conditions. Once all relevant symptoms have been selected, visitors click "OK" and then are asked basic questions about themselves, including their age group and occupation.
Once that's done, the final step is to select the other language your symptoms are to be translated into. For example, to choose translation into Japanese, click the on-screen button marked "Japanese", and wait. Another screen will come up with the selected symptoms in the user's language and the Japanese translation. At this point, a printout is available or the data can be e-mailed to the user's cell phone to be shown to medical professionals.
"There are about 400 different symptoms that can be translated into the different languages," said Aguri Shigeno, executive director of the Multicultural Society Kyoto.
The system is currently being used at three Kyoto-area hospitals and a couple in the Tokyo area, she said.
There are also plans on the part of the center to approach hotels and encourage them to notify their foreign guests of the service, the first of its type in Japan.
The new Web site is designed primarily to help meet the medical needs of the ever-increasing number of foreign tourists to Kyoto and Japan. It also augments the work done by Kyoto's medical interpreter dispatching service.
This service, set up by the city and the center, provides free English-, Chinese- and Korean-language interpretation at four Kyoto hospitals. But these services are limited to certain days and times, and appointments must be made up to five days in advance.
The M3 system is designed to run on most current operating systems, but a user may need to download Microsoft Silverlight software first.
The site can't be accessed by cell phone, however, and a laptop or desktop computer is needed to navigate M3. But the final translated page can be either printed out or scanned into a cell phone via the QR code at the bottom of the page.
"The idea behind M3 is that you can click onto the site in your home or hotel, explain what's wrong with you, print out the Japanese translation, and take it to a hospital or clinic right away, where they will understand without the need of an interpreter," Shigeno said.
For details on the M3 site,

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