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Train operators refining 'live' foreign-language announcements ahead of Olympics

16 Comments

Recently more of the announcements being delivered to passengers on trains in the Tokyo area -- informing them of the next stop and giving data on transfers to other lines and so on -- are not recordings, but the actual voices of the driver or other staff. 

J-Cast News (Feb 10) investigated the current situation and found, for example, that Tokyo Metro's subway trains had initially commenced recorded announcements in Japanese and English from Feb 12, but had also begun, during morning rush hours and during midday on weekdays, making live announcements not only in English but in Mandarin Chinese as well. 

These announcements were not always made on every train, but the number has increased, and are spoken live by the driver. 

The spokesperson who responded to J-Cast's query added that in addition to guidance of the destination and so on, staff were trained to notify foreign passengers of irregularities, such as schedule delays. The company added that in cases where times between two stations were short, recordings would be used instead of verbal announcements, but the aim was for their drivers to speak out "to the greatest degree possible." 

The drivers are said to learn proper English that is incorporated into a part of their regular training regimen. They also to undergo pronunciation drills in foreign languages to enhance their linguistic ability. With Americans and other native speakers as instructors, they are trained to improve the level of their conversational English. 

The spokesperson for Tokyo Metro added that along with dealing with the large number of inbound visitors at the time of this summer's Olympics, the introduction of the service is said to have other objectives, including reassuring passengers in the case of mishaps, preventing overcrowding and accidents and realizing basic safety. 

While the company has not promoted the Chinese language as internal policy, the spokesperson explained, "There's a possibility that some individual staff will speak it out of their own volition." Staff are also believed to be working at acquiring other languages. 

J-Cast News also queried the Keio Teito Electric Railway, which last year transported fans to Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu City for the Rugby World Cup, and the Seibu Railways, whose trains terminate in Ikebukuro, a district of Tokyo with a large Chinese population.

A spokesperson for Keio replied that the announcements in its trains are broadcast automatically, with basic announcements accessed from a hand-held tablet computer. Some drivers who have confidence in their language ability also make live announcements of conditions on the line when deemed necessary. For the Rugby World Cup last autumn, recordings in a number of different voices were supplied to the tablets, and these were played during the morning rush hours and on weekends and holidays. 

According to a Seibu spokesperson, live broadcasts began from December 2018. As a part of boosting its "caring hospitality" to visitors from abroad, it engaged in drills for emergency situations, which might need to be conveyed to passengers in English, such as in the event train services are affected by a major typhoon hitting the greater Tokyo region. 

Even when its announcements are recordings, the company seems keen on providing helpful information to foreign passengers. While signage on the platforms, on board the trains and elsewhere are now made in a variety of languages, Seibu continues to work at flexibility in its services ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, in the form of both audio and visual data.

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

16 Comments
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I regularly use the Tokaido Line.

Sometimes I have to listen to the drivers' agonisingly bad English. The biggest problem is pronunciation. Although I have lived and worked in Japan for eleven years, I have GREAT DIFFICULTY understanding what the driver wants to say.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Interesting because I was on the Tokaido last weekend and the conductor’s English was pretty good.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

A recording is suffice.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Ugh... smarmy American accents all over the place: "We welcome you aboard... have a nice day..."

Cheese. Have a neutral accent rather than a drawl... neutral Brit or Aussie... clear and concise.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Ha ha, the kids and I were in Toyko recently and while I forget which line we were on, as the problem was widespread, we thought the conductor was making an announcement in Chinese, it was so bad.

Yes Abbey, a recording. By me.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Most of the announcements are prerecorded, and they are quite good. Many of them are done by radio DJs. However, for unexpected things, the conductors make some announcements, and I appreciate the effort. Even if not easy to understand, it is very helpful for the foreign tourist whose train to Narita was delayed for example.

And I know this from personal experience, when an express train in Germany stopped in a station, some announcements in German, and then everybody disappeared. I panicked, I found somebody who kindly told me that the train broke down, and I have to run as fast as possible (with a huge suitcase) to another track, where another train was about to leave. I barely made it to my flight!

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I was at a Tokyo-area tourist attraction over the weekend, and they had a Japanese staff member reciting the instructions to the group in both Japanese and English. Horrific English pronunciation. I've been in Japan well over a decade and have become very good at deciphering katakana-flavored English, but I had no clue what this woman was trying to say. It's a problem when Japanese companies think this is passable for foreign customer service.

Thunderbird2: smarmy American accents...Have a neutral accent rather than a drawl... neutral Brit or Aussie... clear and concise.

LOL. "I don't have an accent. Everyone else has an accent." Spot-on logic, mate.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

"I don't have an accent. Everyone else has an accent." Spot-on logic, mate.

He's right, though.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

japan have a big problem, they have to refine the world's simple global language English. This level tells us, what they meant by global ???. Only in their brains.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Well I think it's very nice they're making the effort for it to be easier for English speakers to get around day-to-day, even if it is mangled.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Frankly there are too many recordings and messages blaring on Japanese trains.

Look at the Shinkansen and many limited express trains-is it really necessary to repeat the same type of message about what the future stops will be and times for every station at every stop in 2 (or in Kyushu's case 4) languages.? I wish they brought back those silent cars on the shinkansen where there were no announcements at all.

A short message will suffice. As for commuter trains, you can hardly hear the announcement over the ambient noise..that's a blessing

2 ( +4 / -2 )

This is great, but why do Japanese make and react to the simplest of English like its a complicated science project? They make second language learning creepy. Anyway, nothing beats the live conductor announcements done on a NYC subway: " this is a Brooklyn bound Q train. Stand clear of the closing doors".

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I’ve heard the live English announcement in the Hanzomon line. It won’t be effective. We are used to hearing the Japanese accent but people hearing it for the first time won’t be able to comprehend as seen by tourists looking at each other, “what did he say?”

*thick accent and katakana pronunciation

*mic too close to mouth

*whispers as if attempting not to disturb, even as an announcement.

*Only fragments comprehensible, eg “Thank you for...”

*Japanese words spoken at native speed, too fast for tourists.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I would be more afraid of drivers if they were trying to make announcements in foreign languages. They need to concentrate on driving. If it were a conductor or another person, fine, but not the drivers. They need to concentrate on the signals, speed, etc, not playing with cell phones or trying to read romaji scripts of foreign languages.

I do appreciate the multi-language taped announcements. I appreciate more understanding the first announcement in Japanese on trains and planes, so that I can be prepared to get off (or head to the restroom before seat belting) ahead of those who are relying on the English or other language announcements.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

For the rugby world cup there were recorded announcements in English and Spanish as appropriate, which was a great effort and much appreciated. But one live announcement in English was very confusing:

While stopped at Chofu station with the doors open and a lot of people getting on to the train, the conductor said, "The next station is Tobitakyuu. Please get off HERE for the Tokyo Stadium". He meant "there" of course. But if anybody had been listening, they would have been very confused and tempted to follow the instructions by getting off at Chofu. Luckily this didn't seem to happen but no thanks to the announcer.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Heard a nervous sounding young man doing the announcements in English on the Chiyoda Line the other day.

Good enough. He cleared the hurdle. The step is to do announcements in the style of Sean Connery, Michael Caine, William Shatner, Kermit the frog, Elmo etc. Liven it up a bit.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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