News Releases

Konica Minolta Promotes the Use of Plain Japanese for the Convenience of Foreigners with its KOTOBAL Multilingual Translation System for Local Governments and Public Agencies
For Providing Information during Emergencies and at Ordinary Times

April 13, 2022

Tokyo (April 13, 2022) – Konica Minolta, Inc. (Konica Minolta) today announced that it will start the industry’s first* AI-based plain-Japanese speech-translation service on April 15, 2022, using KOTOBAL, a multilingual translation system it launched for Japanese local governments and public agencies.

In Japan, the use of easy Japanese is encouraged when providing information for foreigners living in Japan, in addition to multilingual translation. The use of plain Japanese, which means rephrasing difficult Japanese expressions into ones that are easy to understand, gained momentum following the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995, which highlighted the necessity of making emergency information more quickly available to foreigners. Since the 2000s, easy Japanese has been used for information at ordinary times as well.

In 2020, Konica Minolta launched KOTOBAL, an AI-based tablet-type multilingual machine translation system that incorporates a dictionary of government terms to help staff at public agencies and local governments in Japan communicate with foreigners. The KOTOBAL system has since been introduced to many government offices. With this system, Konica Minolta will start the industry’s first AI-based plain-Japanese speech-translation service that rephrases difficult technical expressions into plain ones. Konica Minolta is also ready to offer training to KOTOBAL users to speak easy Japanese while training them on how to use the KOTOBAL system to accelerate the spread of easy Japanese.

Plain Japanese

One way to speak plain Japanese is to avoid using the honorific, double-negative and passive expressions which most non-native Japanese speakers find difficult. While government staff dealing with foreigners are expected to use easy Japanese words instead of technical terms, abbreviated words and idioms in kanji characters, such as “社会保障 (social security),” “積立金 (accumulated fund),” and “雇用保険 (employment insurance),” they often struggle to switch suddenly to plain expressions.

KOTOBAL Multilingual Translation System for Local Governments and Public Agencies

1. Industry’s first AI-based plain-Japanese speech-translation service

By selecting “Plain Japanese” on the tablet screen and speaking a word toward the tablet, the plain form of the word is displayed on the screen. This enables government staff to make sentences and give information to foreigners in easy Japanese words. This machine translation service uses an engine for translation into plain Japanese developed by Alfasado Inc. and Konica Minolta’s proprietary database.

As part of training on how to use the KOTOBAL system, Konica Minolta will also run a training program to practice speaking plain Japanese, developed under the supervision of the Easy and Smooth Communication Association.

Government staff who have trained to speak easy Japanese can better communicate with not only foreigners but also Japanese citizens, which also helps increase the accuracy of machine translation by KOTOBAL. Therefore, Konica Minolta believes that this service will help enhance the efficiency of civil services.

2. Video interpretation service by human experts

In cases where complicated explanations are required which cannot be properly machine-translated, then a video interpretation service by human experts can be used. The cost can be reduced by using machine translation for routine conversations, combined with video interpretation by humans when necessary. Konica Minolta provides a highly professional video interpretation service for government offices in cooperation with Language One Corporation, which has a proven track record of offering interpretation services through its multilingual call center.

3. Support for communications with persons with disabilities and elderly people by sign language and speech-to-text translation

In addition to translating 30 languages, the KOTOBAL system can assist communication with persons with disabilities and hard-of-hearing elderly persons by using sign language and speech-to-text translation. With the KOTOBAL system, Konica Minolta hopes to remove communication barriers for people in need of care as well as foreigners across all local government departments, thus contributing to a society where all people can live in comfort.

*According to research by Konica Minolta