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Those three little words - I don't understand. I am sure these have rolled off your tongue whether you are an expat or a local. However, translating apps and devices are changing the game.
I have to communicate with many Chinese people who cannot speak English. But I do not expect them to be fluent in a language spoken thousands of miles away. When my ayi messages me to say she is on her way or asks me if I am out of laundry detergent, I don't need to seek the help of a Chinese friend. I just long press the chat bubble on my WeChat and there is the translate option. This makes communicating more streamlined and convenient. In addition to WeChat's built-in translation function, DiDi Chuxing now has an English version of their app that has built-in translation. Less than six months ago, I would have to ask someone to help when the driver called. Now, with just a push of a button, I can send a preset message or type my own.
Aside from apps, I have seen many real-time translation devices that do immediate translations while you are speaking. From hand-held devices to earbuds that you can't even see. What's next, a microchip in your brain that gives you immediate knowledge of every language?
Not yet, but some of these devices are almost there. The Pilot earbuds not only translate but stream music, take calls, deliver notifications and acts as your personal assistant.
Many of these translation devices run off apps and can be used to help you communicate in many languages. While these devices are still developing, I think it's safe to say that there will be a drop in translation jobs due to this new technology. There has been slow growth in these employment fields as the technology market rises. Some argue that there will still need to be humans for more precise translation and context, while others argue that there will be no need. For now, while the job market may be slowing, it might be due to the new technology helping these interpreters do their job more efficiently.
For me, even though I have the function on WeChat, things still get lost in translation and I need to ask a friend or college for clarification. So, human interpretation is currently still more advanced than translation alone. But with the rapid changes, that might not last long.
This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.