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Why Is It Hard to Translate Japanese to English?

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Translating Japanese to English is no small feat–it involves much more than just substituting words from one language to another. 

It is a delicate art that requires a profound understanding of both languages and an appreciation of their respective cultures and societies. This is why it is often recommended to hire freelance Japanese to English translators who are skilled and experienced in navigating these complexities.

Translating Japanese to English presents numerous challenges because of the different alphabets, context-heavy nature, use of honorifics in Japanese, and significant grammar and sentence structure differences. The translation process can be extremely time-consuming, often taking double or even more time than translations between more similar languages.

Given these challenges, it’s natural to wonder how much Japanese to English translations cost. The cost can vary widely based on several factors, including the complexity of the text, the deadline, and the translator’s experience and expertise. It is essential to consider these factors when budgeting a translation project.

Despite significant advancements in machine translation, it is not recommended to rely on machine-translated text due to the complexities of this language pair. It is always better to hire freelance Japanese to English translators who can accurately and effectively translate content while maintaining its original meaning and cultural nuances.

Language Structural Differences

Japanese and English are languages with entirely different origins, presenting multiple challenges for translation. In addition to the lack of direct translations for certain words, the alphabets are entirely different. Japanese characters use kanji–ideograms derived from Chinese–which are complex graphic symbols that derive meaning from stroke order and placement. 

There are thousands of kanji characters in the Japanese writing system. Moreover, the Japanese written language utilizes hiragana and katakana. Katakana is used for foreign words, whereas hiragana is used when kanji is unsuitable. Kanji and hiragana are often combined to form a single word.

The variance in character sets and writing systems between English and Japanese presents significant challenges for translators. The only way to accurately convey the meaning is to fully comprehend the Japanese sentence before formulating an equivalent in English. A translator must possess a comprehensive understanding of both languages, in spoken and written forms, to ensure the accuracy of the meaning during translation–a task that is undoubtedly difficult.

Another challenge is that English and Japanese do not share any similarities in grammar. Some of the grammatical differences include:

SOV Instead of SVO

English sentences typically follow a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) order. For example, “I (subject) eat (verb) cake (object).” However, Japanese sentences usually follow a Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) order. This same sentence in Japanese would be structured as “I cake eat.” When translating between Japanese and English, the translator needs to rearrange the words to make sense in the target language.

No Subjects

Japanese sentences often drop the subject (and sometimes the object) of the sentence if it is clear from the context. For example, if it’s obvious you’re talking about yourself, you don’t need to say “I” in Japanese.

No Future Tense

Japanese does not have a specific future tense like English does. Instead, the present and future tenses are the same, and the context usually makes it clear whether it’s happening now or in the future.

Rare Use of Pronouns

Japanese sentences rarely use pronouns like “I,” “you,” or “me” because the grammar and context usually make it clear who is referring to whom. For example, the social position of the speaker and the listener can affect the verb forms used, which can indicate who is doing the action without needing to use pronouns.

Cultural Differences

Translating the Japanese language involves navigating its culture and presenting unique challenges across contexts such as pop culture, professional settings, and technical fields. Japanese pop culture, filled with idioms, puns, and cultural references, often lacks direct English equivalents and requires some creative translation. Similarly, professional settings involve keigo (polite language) and specialized jargon, which may not have direct English equivalents and require a deep contextual and subject matter understanding.

In technical fields like science, engineering, and medicine, inaccurate translations can lead to dangerous misunderstandings. Challenges include the multiple meanings of kanji and specialized terminology without direct target language equivalents. Accurate kanji translation requires deep contextual and subject matter understanding, while translating specialized terminology may necessitate consulting experts or specialized glossaries.

What to Look for in a Japanese to English Translator

To be a successful Japanese translator, one must possess a high level of proficiency in the Japanese language, ideally at a native level or at a minimum of a N1 to N2 Level. Additionally, a thorough understanding of cultural idioms is crucial to ensure that no meaning is lost when translating information from Japanese to English or any other required language for your project.

Ensure accuracy, cultural relevance, and effective communication by choosing the best translators from the Guru platform. Post a job, compare quotes, and hire the perfect freelancer today!

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