Translation, Translation Culture

Inherent Problems in Japanese to English Translation Accuracy

Japanese to English translation

Japanese is one of the most difficult languages for westerners to learn, particularly English speakers. The reverse is also true because the grammatical structure of both languages are so different. The result is that translation accuracy often suffers, resulting in awkward phrasing making it clear that a document is not in its original language.

These differences cause a number of problems in Japanese to English translation. Most translations attempt to retain equivalency between the source and target languages by preserving the meaning and intent of the source text and the syntactic structure. Additionally, maintaining an equivalent number of words-for-words or phrases-for-phrases is also virtually impossible.

Japanese to English Translation: Grammatical Differences

Here are basic reasons why the Japanese language is so difficult for English speakers.

  • No definite or indefinite articles
  • No plural nouns, plus the way of counting changes all the time, even with adjectives and pronouns
  • Verbs come at the end of sentences
  • Structural particles, which have no meaning in English, but give nuance, which is so important in Japanese, take the place of prepositions and contribute to the meaning of verbs
  • Sentences do not always need a subject
  • No future tense
  • Honorific, known as Keigo, is difficult to understand
  • Many words and phrases cannot be translated literally, making translation of abstract concepts extremely difficult

Translation Process

Thus, translation between these two languages is much more complex. The process can involve up to five steps, instead of only semantic analysis and syntactical transformation that occurs when translating into Indo-European languages. While Japanese to English translation starts with semantic analysis, there are often several steps where the translator must go back and forth between the two languages, breaking sentences down into smaller chunks, to get meaning and nuances just right enough to produce natural-sounding text. Companies that provide Japanese translation services are better equipped to handle vast and complex projects as they follow systematic procedures and use tools that reduce translation time and overhead costs.

The Complexities of Kanji

Unlike western languages, written Japanese has no upper and lower case letters. There is simply Kanji, the complex character form that takes its meaning from stroke placement, character placement on-readings, kun-readings and more. Again, there is no English equivalent.

Capturing Content, Not Form

Because of such complexities, Japanese to English translation often takes at least two passes through a document to achieve a text that is not only free of errors, but also flows and reads easily. Because one-to-one translation is virtually impossible, translators need to capture content, not form, and use active voice and be succinct with word usage. With this in mind, it’s essential that your translator is completely fluent in both languages to ensure the best possible translation. Finally, in light of complexities, don’t be surprised if the translation work takes longer than normal. After all, accuracy is what you want.

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