Another Great Moment in Online Japanese Translation

Sometimes when I study Japanese, I use an online translator as a way of helping me check my understanding. Sometimes it works. Sometimes I can only get the general idea. And sometimes, this happens.

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Almost English

I must confess, I love poorly translated English. I feel a bit mean in a way, but it’s really not that I’m making fun of people’s mistakes. Teaching ESL and ESL coursework have taught me that English is hard. It’s full of inconsistencies, and I have 100% empathy for any non-native speaker trying to navigate their way through English communication. Also, I really appreciate attempts at making my life a little easier by providing an English translation. And I know that I have said and will say equally ridiculous things in my language learning attempts. So I hope nobody takes my amusement as mean-spirited, because it’s really not intended that way. It’s just an appreciation of language and all of its foibles.

Japan doesn’t have nearly as much nonsensical English as Thailand did. It seems that often they either don’t try or are determined to make it perfect, which seems pretty consistent with the Japanese character in a way, or at least the stereotype. But there’s still some fun stuff here, it’s almost unavoidable when two languages are as different as English and Japanese are, and I try to document it when I see it. Marketing usually provides the best material. I saw the following on a tour bus one of my first days in Aomori City.


Japanese marketing often seems to try for inspirational or idealistic language. In Thailand, everything was kind of zany. Thai marketing in English used a lot of positive, happy words. This is a notebook I bought in Thailand.

payap 003

Japanese marketing seems more philosophical in nature. This notebook I recently bought asks a searching, perhaps unanswerable question.


That being said, Japan isn’t above just using the word “happy” to create an upbeat impression. The following drugstore chain always forces me to stifle a smile.


But for the most part, elegant and poetic language seems to be the goal, as in describing this sandwich for example.


But see? Perfect spelling and punctuation. They are meticulous. And helpful. And clean. Here is an individually wrapped napkin.


So that’s a sampling of some of the language use I get to enjoy. But what really inspired this post was my first purchase of an item that actually came with English instructions. In Japan, beginning drivers are required to get a special sticker for their car. After being honked at a couple of times (not anything major, I’m just not as aggressive about going through yellow lights and turning as a lot of other drivers here seem to be), one of my colleagues jokingly suggested that I get a beginning driver sticker. I decided it actually might not be a bad idea, so I went out and purchased one, and hopefully everyone will be a little more patient with the poor gaijin driver now. So for your reading pleasure, please enjoy the following.


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The Language Gym

by Gianfranco Conti, PhD. Co-author of 'The Language Teacher toolkit' and "Breaking the sound barrier: teaching learners how to listen', winner of the 2015 TES best resource contributor award and founder of

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The Japans

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