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Google Translate helped me navigate a hospital emergency
An accident is unfortunate on the best of days. But getting into one in a foreign land where language barriers are high is a very different challenge. A few months back, I got into a road accident in Vietnam, and if it weren’t for the best language translation app — Google Translate — I’m confident I’d have needed assistance from the local embassy and maybe even medical evacuation.
Have you ever relied on Google Translate in an emergency?
The back story is quite predictable. As a seasoned traveler, I’ve driven around the world, but this time was different. Long story short, exploring rural Vietnam on a rented two-wheeler, a couple of hours away from Hanoi, quickly turned from an exhilarating experience to a nightmare. A run-down road, a snapped brake cable, and the ensuing fall were all it took to break a few bones, cause bruises, and lose a whole lot of blood.
I’ll spare you the gory details, but by the time I made it to a local hospital, with no local language skills, severe blood loss, and a barely-there cell phone connection, I was just short of a full-blown panic attack. “Làm ơn giúp tôi,” the Vietnamese words for “please help” are still etched in my mind as I remember walking around in a daze trying to get assistance.
Google Translate was a literal lifesaver while trying to explain the extent of my injuries to emergency staff.
It shouldn’t be surprising that doctors in rural Vietnam don’t prioritize learning English to deal with foreign tourists. After flailing about and failing to explain the extent of my injuries to the doctor, I made a last-ditch effort and turned to Google Translate. Yes, as someone who lives and breathes technology, it should’ve struck me sooner, but cut me some slack for not being in the best frame of mind given the circumstances.
Luckily, I’d downloaded the offline language pack, so I didn’t have to worry about the terribly spotty internet connection. Within seconds I was up and running and putting down the right words to explain the extent of my injuries to visibly frustrated hospital staff.
I quickly typed up the cliff notes version of the accident and the injuries I suspected I’d suffered and passed it along to the doctor at the emergency desk. That singular move quickly upped the pace of the treatment. No longer was I at the mercy of other patients with broken English skills trying to make sense of my rambling. Instead, I was having a one-on-one conversation with the doctor.
While it did dawn on me that I could’ve sped up the conversation further by using the voice-based conversation mode or Google Assistant’s interpreter mode, the hustle, bustle, and situation demanded a more concise conversation. Text-based translation worked wonderfully for that.
Perhaps the one niggle I had in the entire process was the need to pass my phone across the counter constantly, but again, I’m not complaining, given the circumstances. Google’s upcoming dual-screen interpreter mode on the Pixel Fold solves that exact same problem. That said, I see the conversation and interpreter modes as appropriate for different situations, such as shopping while traveling or conversing with a local at a coffee shop, not something to test or tinker with in a critical situation.
Dual-screen interpreter mode could be the solution for even quicker, seamless conversations, but might not be ideal for situations that need brevity.
An emergency, as the one I found myself in, demands brevity and accuracy. The old-school type-and-translate experience worked just as well as you could expect and accomplished the goal.
Months later, the moment still haunts me, but it renewed my appreciation for everyday tech we take for granted. I wasn’t in mortal danger and probably would’ve gotten medical assistance at some point. However, Google Translate facilitated not just a basic conversation but allowed me to explain the context of the incident and ask specific questions like the status of my X-Ray and exactly what bones were broken. It eased navigating a tricky situation and allowed me to return home on the next available flight.
Have you ever fallen back on Google Translate in an emergency or while traveling?