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Japanese Company’s Translation Fail Goes Viral

A Japanese company’s new mascot gained them a boatload of Internet attention last month- but probably not the kind they were aiming for.

In October, Fukushima Industries introduced a new mascot in the form of a cutesy flying egg with an indeterminate gender identity and an eerily chipper demeanor. The mascot’s name? Fukuppy, which was apparently an attempt to meld the company name with the last 3 letters of the English word “happy.” Read more

Top 10 Asian English Translation Failures

Accurately translating text from Japanese or Chinese to English (or vice versa) can be a difficult task. The languages are just so different, both grammatically and phonetically. Meanwhile, small Asian businesses often don’t have the resources to get a proper translator and rely on machine translation instead. The resulting translations are sometimes odd and nonsensical, and often hilarious. If you need a laugh, Engrish.com has a constantly growing collection of these mistranslations and malapropisms. Here are 10 of my personal favorites:

  1. Hand grenade:” Found over a fire extinguisher in China.
  2. “The grass is smiling at you. Please detour.” Found on a “Keep off the grass” sign from China. Why yes, don’t mind if I do…
  3. “Nokia – Connocting poopie.” Found over a cell phone shop in Manzhouli, China. Obviously, this should say “Nokia – Connecting people.” But it doesn’t.
  4. Read more

CNN's Translation of Japanese Memo Contested

Has CNN found Toyota’s smoking gun, or is it just a case of incorrect translation?

From 2009 to 2011, the Japanese automaker issued a series of recalls prompted by reports of “sudden unintended acceleration,” in which cars seemed to accelerate of their own accord. Investigations by NASA and the National Highway Safety Association found that the problems were due to defects in the cars’ floor mats and accelerator pedals, but some consumers and consumer advocacy groups have accused Toyota of hiding a problem in the vehicle’s electrical systems.

Last week, CNN broadcast a special report that seemed to prove them right. The report was based on a confidential memo, originally written in 2006 in Japanese. When CNN had it translated, the translation appeared to imply that “Toyota engineers found an electronic software problem that caused “sudden unintended acceleration” in a test vehicle during pre-production trials.” The memo was not provided to the appropriate US government agencies during their investigation of Toyota.

Understandably, Toyota is less than pleased with CNN’s report, which they called “grossly inaccurate” in a press release. They claim that CNN’s translations (all three of them) are wrong and misleading. According to Toyota, the seemingly damning phrase “sudden unintended acceleration,” present in the second translation of the document, never appears in the original Japanese text:

“The translation of “勝手に,” which appears in the document, actually translates to “by itself” (as it does in the first translation by CNN) or “on its own”… and “ 発進” correctly translates to “starts out.” This phrase “starts out on its own” is used to refer to the fact that the adaptive cruise control (ACC) was preparing to resume its pre-set speed. This is not a reference to sudden unintended acceleration. In fact, notes from the translator hired by CNN explicitly acknowledge that: “I added these words based on my understanding of the context.”

Toyota also argues that the memo has been taken out of out context, saying that the test it described involved a situation that was completely unrelated to the vehicle recalls, and that the car in the test not only never accelerated, but never even moved forward at all.

Regardless of the truth, this situation highlights how important it is for translators to have as much context for their translations as possible. This is even more true when it comes to highly technical documents. In the second translation especially, you can see that the translator was at times quite unsure as to the intended meanings behind some of the Japanese characters.

Image CreditAttributionNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Toyota Motor Europe

Want to See the World From a New Perspective?

Learning how to speak another language can be a lot of fun, and knowing how to speak one is a useful, marketable skill in today’s world. But there’s another reason to learn a new language. It may sound like a cliché, but a new study indicates that learning a second language can actually change the way you see the world.

The study looked at people who spoke Japanese, people who spoke English and people who spoke both languages, and asked them to distinguish between different shades of blue.

Why blue? The Japanese language differentiates between light blue (mizuiro, or “the color of water”) and dark blue (ao) in a way that English does not. Read more

Kindle Paperwhite Now Speaks Japanese

After 5 years, Amazon has finally released its popular Kindle and the Kindle Store to the Japanese market. A Japanese version of the new Kindle Paperwhite is now available for pre-order in Japan, as are the Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD tablets.

Considering Japan’s reputation as voracious consumers of all things tech, why did Amazon wait so long? There are a couple of possibilities. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden attributed the delay to hardware issues, such as the need for a keyboard with Japanese characters; the availability of Japanese-language content and the need to negotiate data agreements with local mobile carriers. Obviously, the switch from keyboards to touchscreens meant that hardware was no longer an obstacle.

However, PC Mag theorizes that Amazon simply believed that earlier versions of the Kindle wouldn’t have translated well. So, the company decided to wait until it had perfected its e-reader screen before introducing it to Japan. The earlier iterations of the Kindle were apparently good enough for the rest of us, but not for the Japanese:

“With a consumer base known for its 99 percent literacy rate, as well as a national passion regarding the way in which words are graphically presented (Japanese calligraphy) it’s no wonder Amazon waited years before diving into the market with a Kindle dedicated to the Japanese language.”

Either way, it was about time for Amazon to introduce its signature e-reader to Japan. In a company press release, Jeff Bezos said

“After twelve years of selling print books on Amazon.co.jp, we are excited to offer the millions of Amazon.co.jp customers the new Kindle Store, with the largest selection of the books people want to read, the largest selection of Oricon best sellers in books, bunko, and manga, and over 50,000 Japanese-language titles—all available to anyone with a Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle Fire, Android phone, Android tablet, iPhone, or iPad.”

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by kodomut

Japanese signs in the Cotswolds

Signs Translated for Japanese Tourists

The Cotswolds are apparently quite the destination for Japanese tourists – so much so that the railway station at Moreton in Marsh has translated some of its signs into Japanese to help them get their bearings.

According to the Daily Mail, the Japanese signs are the brainchild of station manager Teresa Ceesay, who says that they have made Japanese tourists feel more welcome and made it easier for her small staff to take care of customers. She explained:

“We’ve had a very positive reaction from Japanese visitors with many saying thank you. The Cotswolds is so well promoted in Japan. It’s just to help tourists when they arrive. I’d noticed a lot coming here and they get off the train and look a bit puzzled. They’d ask in our ticket office but we only have one member of staff. It’s only a few signs but it means a lot to people.”

Read more

New Glove Translates Sign Language Into Text

Japanese researchers at  Osaka and Shinshu Universities have been working together to develop a gadget that automatically translates finger spelling into text. The prototype product, called “Fingual,” consists of a glove with magnetic fingertips. As you move your hands to form letters, the glove senses the changes in the magnetic fields and translates the movements into words.

Everybody forms letters somewhat differently, so for the highest level of accuracy, users must program the glove themselves, to recognize their specific style of signing. Once that’s done, the glove is capable of translating gestures with a 90% accuracy rate, at least while indoors.  If you use a glove programmed to understand someone else’s gestures, the accuracy rate will be lower, but still around 80% to 90%. Read more