A pair of glasses that allows the wearer to translate the foreign language text they are reading has been unveiled at a gadget fair in Japan. The makers promise the technology will be available in time for the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.

NTT Docomo, a Japan-based phone operator, demonstrated the device at the Ceatec trade show, and it’s safe to say the gadget could become a must-pack item for holidaymakers in the future. Confusing road signs, menus and travel information could soon become a thing of the past, as by popping on one of the augmented reality head-mounted devices, users are able to see a translation of the text in front of them. Missing your flight because you’re at the wrong gate at the airport might become a distant memory.

To work, the device must be connected to the internet in order to access a cloud network on the user’s smartphone that provides the translation. It then uses character recognition software to decipher what the text says, but rather than displaying it in a separate block it overlays the translated text on the text the wearer is reading so it makes sense. This is particularly useful when dining at a restaurant, as the translation for each dish is listed separately next to the image and text representing it on the original menu. While this is a useful tool whatever the language being read, it is especially helpful when the language uses a different alphabet to what the reader is familiar with.

The product is not dissimilar to Google Glass, the computer headset that is hands-free and operated by voice commands. Just like the NTT Docomo technology, Glass displays information and text on the visor over the wearer’s eyes. There is already much talk among technology developers about what they can create to accompany the gadget to make it more useful, with automatic translation being one of the lead additions.

Currently, NTT Docomo’s headset is in the development stage, but it can already display translations in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. In this early stage, the speed of each translation is approximately five seconds.

Speaking to the BBC about the development, IDC consumer technology consultant Jonathan Gaw says: “Small-bore applications like on-the-fly menu translation won’t sell a pair of smart glasses on their own, but a large ecosystem of applications might.” NTT Docomo’s headset also incorporates facial recognition technology that displays details about whoever is in the wearer’s eye line. The data on the screen can also be interacted with and manipulated with hand movements, using a special ring worn by the user.

Hands-free technology such as NTT Docomo and Google Glass could one day be a must-have for any traveller. Not only are early developments being made in automatic translation software for the technology, but also in applications that help the wearer communicate with people who speak a different language.

Jaber Jabbour is the founder of the phonetic alphabet SaypYu, and believes that it could be the ideal addition to products like Google Glass. The wearer will be able to tell the headset what it is they want to say and get the automatic translation. Then, this will be spelt out in the SaypYu alphabet, which makes it easier to read and pronounce a language you are unfamiliar with. As a result, Mr Jabbour hopes it will be the perfect accompaniment for any holidaymaker who doesn’t want their words to get lost in translation.