Translation Device for World Cup Fans

The 2010 World Cup is set to take place in South Africa next month, from June 11th to July 11th. Teams from 32 different countries will travel to the country to compete for the championship. Of course, with the World Cup will come hordes of foreign football fans, all ready to party. Some of them will inevitably fall ill while in South Africa, perhaps as a result of too much of a good thing.

To prepare for them, South African pharmacy chain Clicks will use computers connected to Yahoo’s Babelfish, an online translation program. This should help break down the language barrier between pharmacists and their foreign customers. Customers will type in what’s ailing them, and Babelfish will translate their symptoms to the pharmacist and then translate the pharmacist’s recommendations back to the patient. Ideally, this process will ensure that patients are prescribed the correct medications and that they know how to use them.

In an article on the Times Live website, Jan Roos, head of Clicks pharmacy operations, explained why his chain decided to use online translation software:

“The biggest thing is to help our customers in their home language, and it is quite important that they understand how to use the drugs that they require.”

This will definitely be welcome news for people  traveling to South Africa who don’t speak any of the languages that are commonly spoken there (mainly Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English, although South Africa is such a diverse country that there are 7 other “official” languages).

Of course, machine translation is never perfect. Let’s just hope that Babelfish does a better job translating for the pharmacists than it did at translating my Spanish homework all those years ago…