Two couples are placed opposite each other at the one remaining table in a bar by the Volga. One is Russian and the other Brazilian; it quickly turns out there is no common language but the semaphore for “anyone fancy a beer?” is universal enough and, besides, the football is on. They could probably get by for the evening on visual cues and repeat mentions of Harry Kane, but England v Colombia works better as background entertainment and the local man has an idea. Out comes a smartphone; a few taps later and he is speaking slowly, clearly, into the mic: “How many games have you been to? I thought your team played well against Serbia.” The question is parroted back to his new friends, robotically and in correct Portuguese. Now the floodgates are open: by the time Eric Dier has scored the winning penalty, mother tongues have long since become irrelevant and the device is mediating plans to meet for more drinks the following day.How my England odyssey ended up at another World Cup semi-final | Philip Cornwall Read moreIt was Franz Kafka who said “all language is but a poor translation” but perhaps he would have softened upon witnessing this scene and the thousands of similar iterations that have pulled visitors through good, bad and sometimes cringeworthy situations in Russia this summer. This has been a World Cup of shocks, set-pieces and VAR; it has also been the World Cup of Google Translate, the technology coming into its own during a month of frenzied cro必中不服要比过打一肖 ss-cultural exchange in places where multilingualism is not always common. A South Korean needs to extend his stay in Kazan for another night? Tell it to the phone. A waitress has no khachapuri left to serve a table of hungry Costa Ricans in Samara? Let the medium become the message.The process is at once expedient, slightly stilted and faintly dystopian. It has been wildly popular: Google reports a 30% increase in Translate sessions from within Russia using mobile phones since the tournament began, with conversion from Spanish to Russian the most popular option. That owes to the tide of travelling supporters from Latin America, whose absence from the latter stages has been keenly felt both in and away from the stands; there has also been a 40% leap in exchanges using Arabic and Russian. Queries containing “World Cup” have gone up by 200% and those involving “beer” by 65%. Statistics may appear dry but they seem to confirm one of the more desirable side-effects of a World Cup: a genuine effort from people of multiple nationalities to have a good time and get along.Technology is yet to gain perfect mastery of nuance or vernacular so there has, perhaps refreshingly, been a healthy pile of unintended misunderstandings, insults and double entendres. One colleague, having used Google Translate to negotiate a competitive taxi rate in Volgograd, was wrong-footed when the driver offered: “If you would like a blow, it could be less.” He was proposing to turn the air conditioning down. Another, red-faced and puffing after an early-morning run in oppressive midsummer heat, was abashed to be confronted by a soldier who – using the text-based version of the service – flashed the question “Do you require medical attention?” on his screen.World Cup Fiver: sign up and get our daily football emailIt might be enough to leave you pining for the days of the Berlitz phrasebook and the set of stock phrases studiously learned on the flight over. A significant reason for Google Translate’s primacy, though, is that the Cyrillic alphabet presents a hurdle before anyone has even started on vocabulary. In fact it can be picked up very quickly but that is easy to say when most football fans are around for a good time rather than a long time. Besides, there is an app for that too; a number of supporters and media have fried each other’s brains with programmes that use a phone’s camera to instantly change the Russian text on, say, a cereal packet to English.In practical terms, what does all this mean? Google says its vision is of “a world where language is no longer a barrier to discovering information or connecting with each other”. If information is ever to become truly democratised then that would appear essential, with the caveat that only 100% translation accuracy could complete the process. But the obvious collateral damage in this quickfire route to comprehension is that, slowly, learning a foreign language becomes less and less necessary. A battle may already be looming. Last August, figures from Ucas showed that applications from UK students to study European language courses at university had dropped by 22.8% in the preceding five years; the figure for non-European languages had fallen by 17.5%. The line between opening different ways of being and creating a monoculture might be very thin; if nothing else there is certainly a complicit abdication of responsibility in speaking into a device that interprets your words according to its own wishes, in a language you cannot understand.Quiz: test your knowledge of World Cup flags Read moreThese are loftier concerns than those held by a group of Uruguay fans wanting to hire a minibus to Nizhny Novgorod, or by many of the England supporters who have found that theirs is not the default “international” language in most of Russia’s provincial cities. If the pace of technological change can be dizzying then nobody who has seen it at first hand since early June can say it has been used for anything but good. A country whose mystique is sometimes exaggerated has, with the assistance of Google and its “neural machine translation” technology, been stripped back for all to enjoy. And, perhaps most remarkably of all, as the beer flowed during that impromptu meeting in Samara, it helped four people turn an England penalty shootout into a relaxed and enjoyable social occasion.