Today I’m going to talk about a topic that, I honestly, as a learner of Japanese, really wish to get across to those considering learning or are currently learning Japanese.
I am pretty sure anyone who has spent a considerable time on the internet knows about translation websites and services. These websites operate in such a way that a user enters a string in a certain language, and the software outputs a translation based on how it is coded, regardless of its accuracy. With that said, I think we can all agree that translation technology has a long way to go before it even gets close to natural, or at least accurate translation 100% of the time. I also think we can all agree that the most (in)famous of all these online translators is Google Translate.
Note, the above’s correct translation is “nonexistent.” あらへん is Kansai for ない.
Now to be fair, it’s already been established that Google Translate Japanese, is noticeably horrific, as evidenced by the many Japanese YouTubers who made videos on the subject. The way I see it, it’s really because of how English is structured that when it is run in Google Translate’s code, it tends to jack things up a lot. Japanese’s grammar is very different from English; so much different that I personally recommend studying Japanese brute force – no comparisons to English. Also, the fact that Japanese has different levels of politeness tends to mess with the AI so much, that sentences being translated by the translator could end up being overly polite, or overly rude, or a mix of both. Either way, it’s a pain to read. This issue of being jacked up in translation is also caused by the fact that Japanese has many dialects, although this one is more evident when translating Japanese to English (see my example above).
But just in case you don’t believe me:
Original English: My name is Ayappi. I’m 18 years old and love anime. I also love technology, especially my custom PC and my iPad Pro that I recently bought. I built the computer with parts I bought with my own money that I saved.
Japanese (My Own): あやっぴです。１８歳でアニメ大好きです。テクも大好きです。特に自分の自作ＰＣと最近買ったiPad Pro。あの自作ＰＣ、貯めたお金でパーツを買って作りました。
Japanese (Google Translate): 私の名前はAyappiです。 私は18歳で、アニメを愛しています。 私はテクノロジー、特に私が最近買った私のカスタムPCとiPad Proも好きです。 私は私が自分のお金で買った部品でコンピュータを作りました。
While the first sentence is correct on the Google Translate one, it’s probably the only correct part. Notice the unnatural language, as well as the lack of Japanization of my name in the Google Translate version. あやっぴ is how you write my name in Japanese. Also notice how there is a noticeable overuse of 私, a dead giveaway that this is Google Translate, simply because a normal Japanese person would have just omitted the word altogether due to it being obvious.
Fun Tip: If you suspect someone is using Google Translate, please use a dialect or net slang. Chances are it will confuse them.
Okay, so we established that Google Translate is bad for translating sentences, but how about individual words? Surely it must be accurate in that department yeah? Well, based on my testing at least, it’s fairly accurate. It’s probably the one thing Google Translate is good at. However, I would like to point out one important thing, and that is the fact that alternatives to Google Translate for this purpose exist. Oftentimes, these alternatives are even better, and more powerful than Google Translate.
I’m referring especially towards online dictionaries that offer English to Japanese capability. In particular, I love Jisho for its support for English to Japanese, and even support for romaji input if you’re still learning Hiragana and Katakana. I personally don’t see the point of using translation services which have been notorious for unreliable translations, when these more powerful and easy to use alternatives exist. When I’m communicating to actual people, I would much rather go through the trouble of using these dictionaries for more accurate translations instead of the arguably more convenient Google Translate.
And if a web browser based solution isn’t up to your preference, there are many free dictionary applications on both Android and iOS (if you’re on iOS I recommend Shirabe Jisho), that are equally as powerful as Jisho. Don’t worry about space too, because based on my testing, they’re small. Oftentimes it’ll just be as big as Facebook Messenger depending on how much you use the application.
I’m sorry if I came off as too rude or arrogant here, but honestly I wanted to get this out of the way. As a learner of Japanese I, too will admit that in the first few months of me learning, I used Google Translate until I realized how flawed the system is. If you have access to any form of dictionary, please for your own sake do not use Google Translate. If you don’t, look for one. I promise you, this is better than accidentally saying something else compared to what you actually wanted to say (and trust me, I learned the hard way).
Are you a learner of Japanese or do you know anyone who likes to use Google Translate a lot? Please let me know your thoughts! If you use a dictionary, what do you use and why did you choose that?
Until the next entry, please have a nice day! ❤