Perhaps automatic translation has made strides in the past few years, but it still has a long way to go when it comes to working between Japanese and English.
The other day I posted this heartwarming scene to Facebook:
Adult & three little kids walking down my street:
Kid: What’s that?
Dad(?): It’s a rooster.
Kid: What’s a rooster?
Dad: It goes *does an admirable impression of a rooster crowing*
Kid 2: Cock-a-doodle-do!
Youngest Kid: *attempts to crow, ends up shrieking instead*
This made me smile as I sat in my window reading. lol
The next day I noticed that some unexpected people had liked the status, people who aren’t native English speakers and probably don’t speak it at a terribly high level (though maybe they do now, I haven’t seen some of them in like 6 years). So I wondered if they had just liked the stat for the sake of interacting with it, if they’d understood it, or if they’d read a machine translation of it and…well, what did that say? So I plugged it into Google, and it gave me this.
This is a horrible translation for several reasons, but if you just re-translate it back into English you might not see some of them, because some words will end up correct in English even though the wrong word was used in Japanese. So let’s human translate Google Translate’s attempt:
Adult & walk my street three small children
[The way that the children were “counted” was grammatically incorrect]
Kid: What is that?
Father(?): That is a rooster.
Kid: What is a rooster?
Father is: that goes **Performs an admirable impression of a rooster’s crow
[Invisible problems here: Japanese does not idiomatically use the verb “go” in this sense; the word used for “impression” means “impression” in the sense of “He made a good impression on me” rather than the intended “impersonation”; Google doesn’t understand the convention of narrating actions in the third person within asterisks—though to be fair perhaps such a convention doesn’t exist at all in Japanese.]
Kid: Cock is–doodle-does!
[Google Translate failed to recognize this as onomatopoeia, taking it as four separate words instead; yet, as with the asterisks before, seemed at a loss over what to do with the hyphens. The katakana word that it chose for “cock” can mean “cook” as in “chef,” “cock” as in “male bird,” or “cock” as in “penis.”]
Kid 2: Huge cock–doodle I do!
[Not gonna lie, this cracked. me. UP. Unlike the first instance of “cock,” which was rendered with a katakana word that at least had the correct meaning within its pool of possible meanings, there’s no doubt as to what kyokon means, and it ain’t “rooster.” Also, for further inexplicable reasons, it chose itasu, the humble form of the verb “do” in respectful language.]
Young child: * is, instead of trying to do crow finishes shrieking
[Here it took “crow” as a noun rather than a verb, so it used the Japanese word for the bird. Also, while “finishes shrieking” could potentially sound like the intended “ends up shrieking,” what the Japanese implied was actually that there was already shrieking going on, and that instead of trying to crow, the child stopped that shrieking, ultimately yielding silence.]
I sat reading my window, this made me into a smile. LOL
[The word used for “reading” can mean regular reading as of a novel but usually has some extra nuance, for example, a machine reading data, a person reading someone’s mind, reading between the lines, etc. Also, Google Translate attempted to convey “made me smile” by keeping the two verbs, but the thing is that the construction “made (someone) do (something)” is expressed in Japanese by conjugating the action verb with an ending that reflects the “made~”, so you end up with one only one verb when you translate this construction correctly.]
There you have it, folks, an analysis of some of the things that can go horribly horribly wrong when you use Google Translate and its peers. Sometimes those mistakes end up being pretty entertaining, but a lot of the hilarity would fly over your head if you weren’t bilingual.
After tearing Google Translate apart, I suppose it’s only fair that I should translate this myself. That said, I wouldn’t present the story the same way were I to have Japanese speakers primarily in mind. For one, that narrating actions in third person bit doesn’t really translate (as far as I know). Also, I’m a big proponent of using what you know rather than trying to sound as if all your languages are at the same level. I mean, even if I consider my Japanese to be strong, my English level is still far beyond that. So if I attempt to write something in Japanese at the same level as I can write it in English, I’ll probably fail. That’s why I don’t bother. I just use whatever words come naturally, like so: