126M Japanese Speakers
Japanese is not an easy language to translate into. The is within the language itself and the perfectionism embedded in the background of the Japanese mentality.
Japanese translation can definitely be a struggle for people who approach it for the first time. It’s not as easy as saying that one language is objectively easier to handle than another. This can be a very subjective experience — just like language learning.
Each language has its associated translation issues that need to be considered before any text can be translated. In Japanese translations, one of the first things clients need to understand is that the target audience usually has high stylistic considerations. Moreover, there’s a rigorous protocol one must follow when addressing such an audience.
If you feel it is time to improve your time-management and pay more attention to your clients
The complexity of Japanese translation
1. The written language > Translation Service
- Honorification (or keigo in Japanese) can be categorized into three kinds; polite language (teinei-go), respectful language (sonkei-go) and humble language (kenjo-go). It’s very important that these three are used appropriately, as the situation demands.
- Kanji is known as one of the most difficult things in Japanese, because of the different way each Kanji character is written, which is completely different from how English words and structured sentences work. Rather than using words and clauses to convey meaning and structure, kanji relies on different strokes, combined in complex character sets. Their meaning is inferred from their placement and its position within a set of characters, and there are several ways of “reading” many kanji.
- Grammar While English and most Western languages have a Subject-Verb-Object syntactical structure, the structure of Japanese takes on the opposite form: Subject-Objective-Verb. This must be kept in mind especially when translating or localizing forms, as simply translating them in their original order can result in text that’s very difficult to follow or doesn’t make any sense.
- Name Structure The Japanese name structure differs from that of most of the Western cultures too. While Western names take the “First Name + Surname (Last Name)” structure, that of Japanese takes the opposite; “Surname + First Name”. This needs to be considered and specified when content needs to be to fully localized, especially in systems or situations where end-users need to fill out forms and enter their names along with other information, so that notifications or other informative types of messages such as emails/letters can be sent out to them based on that information.
2. The spoken language > Media Service
- Homophones If you thought that English has a lot of homophones (words that mean different things but are pronounced the same way), try studying Japanese. You’ll then find that there are cases where one pronunciation can be mean different things.
Example: “hashi” can mean three things depending on their kanji, and we can also distinguish the meaning by the tone (just like in Chinese) in some cases.
橋: bridge (with a stress on the i)
箸: chopsticks (with a stress on the a)
端: corner, edge (the same pronunciation as 橋)
Japanese presents another big problem for translators when it comes to complex sentences and sayings. It takes a skilled translator to make sure they are able to put something on paper that makes sense in English while retains and conveys the original Japanese meaning well.