I’m a senior executive in the travel industry, so business travel has been a big part of my life for many years.
Having said that, some things still take me by surprise.
When I’m travelling for business in Europe or the US, I normally don’t have a problem communicating.
Why would this trip be any different?
Recently I went on a 3-week business trip around Korea, China and Japan attending meetings, conferences and trade shows.
A few days before I was due to leave, a colleague joked: how’s your Korean? I smiled: my Korean, Mandarin and Japanese are about as good as my jokes- he knew that. He went on to explain that when he went to Korea the year before, many people didn’t speak English.
3 weeks of meetings and trade shows in Asia with mainly Asian delegates; how would I communicate?
I scanned the web for a solution: I found the whym app.
Incheon Airport Immigration
I’d never had a problem with my visa before. But, of course, if I was going to have a problem with immigration, it would be in a country where I can’t understand a thing.
So here I am in Incheon International Airport with security taking me to a waiting room, looking at me, shaking their head, pointing at the piece of paper.
I stare at them blankly. English? What’s going on?
I remember I’d downloaded whym to my phone and had loaded it with 30 minutes of interpreter time.
To be honest, I was a bit nervous. I didn’t really expect to use it. Not this soon anyway!
Would it actually work?
You bet it did.
I clicked Korean and within about 35 seconds I heard what was, at the time, music to my ears: a Korean to English interpreter was on the line.
The lady on the phone explained that I’d filled the onward journey section of the visa incorrectly, which took all of 5 minutes to resolve.
Korean security and I let out a nervous (but relieved!) chuckle, and they let me go on my way.
Business Meeting in Japan
The morning I arrived in Tokyo, I had to go straight into a business meeting.
The Japanese gentleman I was meeting with made an effort to speak some English- and I some (terrible) Japanese- however I could tell he felt a little uncomfortable.
I got out my phone and showed him whym. A little confused, I think, he smiled politely. Was I showing him my new product? My fancy new phone?
I tapped Japanese and put it on speaker phone so that we could both hear the interpreter come on the line.
I spoke first, letting the interpreter know that I was in a business meeting. The first thing I needed the interpreter to do was explain to my Japanese colleague what the hell I was doing right now.
A few fast sentences later, my Japanese colleague laughed and bowed his head in gratitude.
We continued the business meeting with ease, using the interpreter on speaker phone in the middle of the table throughout. It seemed a little odd at first, but it was surprising how quickly we got used to it.
With the professionalism of the interpreter and the speed of the app, we were both able to relax and communicate naturally, rather than nervous laughing our way through the meeting.
Car Hire in Shanghai
For my time in China, the company had organised a car for me. However, when I arrived it seemed (from what I could tell from hand gestures and some broken English) that the dates had been mixed up.
I got the gist of what was going on, and they knew I wasn’t happy. However, I couldn’t communicate that I wanted to change the booking for today- even if it meant paying more.
So what do I do? You guessed it! I get out my new best friend; this time testing out Mandarin.
The Mandarin interpreter explained how I wanted to proceed, and within 15 minutes I was in my car driving to my hotel.
Shanghai World Travel Fair
The next day I knew I was attending the SWTF, so I loaded my whym account with 60 minutes of interpreter time.
I ended up using all of my minutes for a meeting in the buyer’s lounge and at a couple of stands where English wasn’t spoken.
The best bit? No dodgy trade show Wi-Fi needed. I simply used my phone connection- just like any other call.
Nanxun Hotel Reception
n big hotel chains, language is rarely a problem at reception.
However, when you unexpectedly have to stay in a small town in China, where there are only locally-run hotels, that’s not always the case.
I arrived very late one evening in Nanxun, and the lady at reception had very limited English.
She showed me a shoe-box room with no work space or safe.
I wanted to ask whether a better room was available, but I couldn’t make myself understood.
As it was very late, I was worried there might not be an interpreter available on whym.
However, whym’s coverage is 24/7, so I had a Mandarin interpreter on the phone, at the same cost to me, at midnight on a Sunday.
The lady was happy to move me to a bigger room on the second floor.
Whilst I vow to improve my Korean, Japanese and Mandarin, I don’t think I would travel again -particularly to this part of the world-without the whym app.
Having whym on my phone for this particular business trip meant that I could communicate with professionalism, confidence and ease. It also got me out of some slightly uncomfortable moments- not to mention getting stuck at airport security for an hour.
Sure, there were times where I could’ve made do with hand gestures or Google Translate. After all, I’ve somehow managed all these years without language help at my fingertips.
But when it’s so easy and cost-effective with today’s technology to access a professional interpreter, my view on it is this: why the hell not?