A simple, always available, translation service

If you like to travel, like me, I’m sure you’ve once been stuck in some far away place where you don’t speak any of the local languages and the locals don’t speak any of your languages. Then, when you’re struggling to understand what someone is trying to tell you, or someone is struggling to understand what you’re trying to tell them, you’ve probably have had a moment where you wish your capacity to comprehend languages was, well, better.
What is nice, is that even in developing countries, as long as you stay in reasonably urban areas, you will always have cell phone coverage.

Or maybe you’re a ‘professional’, let’s say working at some branch of the EU, where all official documents have to be translated in 55000 languages (well, maybe a few less) and anyone you encounter might be from over 30 different countries. At times, I’m sure you wished you had an instant translator available to you.
Of course, you’d be carrying your cell phone.

Well, the following idea would solve the above mentioned two problems, as well as countless others.
If you would be able to call a particular phone number, say one number everywhere in Europe, and request for an immediate translation service between yourself and someone else, your problems would be solved in an instant.

Here’s an example:

Let’s assume you’re a Dutch male and you’re in Romania, on holiday. You speak five languages but Romanian isn’t one of them. At the train station of the city of Oradea (on the border with Hungary), you start talking to a good looking girl who appears to be intelligent, speaks four languages, but not one language you also can manage in. You exchange simple niceties but would like to start on a decent discussion. After all, you realise you really like this girl.
You remember there’s this Europe-wide translation service available through a simple phone call. You ask for the girl’s phone number, which she readily gives, and use sign language to tell her she has to wait for one or two minutes.

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You call the number of the translation service, state you want a Romanian-Dutch translation and tell them that your line will be the Dutch line. Then you give them the girl’s phone number, stating that will be the Romanian line. The translation service calls the girl and sets up the Romanian-Dutch translation service between the two lines. Now, I suppose this would have to be done with real people. In the future, this would be probably through pure machine translation.
You will have to pay the charges, covering the two phone calls and the services at the call centre.

Now, you can talk Dutch into your own phone. This will be translated into Romanian and passed on to the girl, using her phone. Whenever she talks Romanian, it will be translated and passed onto your phone in Dutch.

Time flies, you are a perfect match, 30 minutes later, you feel you’ve known the girl all your life and you decide to marry the next day. How nice.

On July 2, 2006, the Dutch newspaper Telegraaf actually had an article on a service like this which will be go live for Dutch tourists in China, apparently.