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  • Francis Fung

Differences between translating Japanese and English. Aren't they both just "translating?"


As an agency, we are often asked "Isn't it just translating? Surely it's the same time / it's easy / it's similar to translate between Japanese and English?" Nope. Unfortunately, it's as clear, simple and yet difficult to compare the two.

Japanese and English are two very different languages, with different grammar, vocabulary, and writing systems. Here are some key differences to understand when thinking about asking for translations between Japanese and English:

  1. Grammar: Japanese and English have fundamentally different grammar. Japanese is an agglutinative language, a fancy way of saying that Japanese words can be built up by adding suffixes to a root word. Unlike English, which on the other hand, is an analytic language, which means that words are typically composed of smaller units that are combined to form a sentence. This can make it challenging to accurately translate between the two languages. As the basic structure, ordering and length are different from the offset. You're basically needing to rewrite, more than "translate".

  2. Vocabulary: Japanese and English also have different vocabularies, with many words that do not have direct translations in the other language. This can be particularly challenging when translating technical or specialized terms. Phrases, words, terms which may be common in one language might have completely different meanings in the other. In English, we're well aware of US and UK differences in English. "Pants", "Chips", "Lift / Elevator", "Trunk / Boot" to name a few. In Japanese it's no different and even more difficult. To overcome this, we usually use glossaries complied from past industries and experience, however, we'll need to keep in close contact and discussions to ensure terminology is correct and suited to your needs and industry, otherwise the translations will sound unnatural and cause negative impressions.

  3. Writing systems: Japanese and English use different writing systems, with Japanese using a combination of kanji (Chinese characters) and two syllabic scripts (Hiragana and Katakana). English, on the other hand, uses one alphabet. This can make it difficult to translate between the two languages because the writing systems do not correspond directly. Knowing when to use which writing system is something which can only be judged by a native writer and speaker, and these differences are in reverse picked up by native readers of the language. Whether in English or Japanese.

  4. Cultural differences / Slang: Japanese and English also have different cultural contexts, which can affect the way that words and phrases are used and understood. Translators need to be aware of these cultural differences, phrases and slang, in order to produce accurate and idiomatic translations. Again, if these are not considered, it will produce off putting and unnatural sounding content.

Overall, translating between Japanese and English can be a complex process that requires a deep understanding of both languages and their respective cultures. Translators need to be proficient in both languages and have the skills and knowledge to accurately convey the meaning and intent of the original text. Which is why we have a team of bilingual native speakers with backgrounds in both Japan and abroad. Keep the differences above in mind and remember that translation between Japanese and English is not always "just translation". Contact us to discuss how we can help, if you have questions or want to learn more. Sloane Japan

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