Interpreting Japanese

December 21st, 2015

Not surprisingly some of the most difficult words to translate are from the Japanese language.

Interpreting Japanese | One Hour Translation

With the huge impact of Internet communications and the massive technological advances in terms of translation, it’s interesting to note that no device or system has yet been developed to emulate the intent and accuracy of a human interpreter. One wonders why technology has not moved closer to overcoming the language barrier.

Some Japanese Words Are Very Difficult to Translate

Not surprisingly some of the most difficult words to translate are from the Japanese language. A good example is ‘naa’ which is used in the Kansai area of Japan as a way of emphasizing statements, or demonstrating that a conversation thread has not been broken.

Yes, we know it’s true that there are many online tools and resources available to help reduce the language gap in over 50 languages, but still today these tools translate too literally and lack the double meanings and nuances of a human who does speak the language.

Kanji: A Japanese Writing Style

One of the biggest challenges in Japanese is Kanji. There are three different types of writing in Japanese. One of these (katakana) is used specifically for foreign words, and there are approximately 50,000 characters (or Kanji), being literal representations of complete concepts.

Resources for Translating Kanji

Smartphones have an application whereby Kanji can be entered by hand and you receive a dictionary definition; but you still need to know the order of the strokes to correctly interpret the characters. Another tool works like a pencil, moving over the text and providing Japanese translation. These tools definitely help a lot, but they’re still unable to tell us what people actually mean, beyond what they’re literally saying.

Like many other Eastern cultures, Japanese people prefer to speak indirectly, thus avoiding being upfront and explicit. So if a Japanese taxi driver advises that it might be difficult to reach your destination within 30 minutes, what he’s actually saying is that there’s no chance at all of getting there within that timeframe. Even though he wants to say ‘no’, he’ll still be vague and indirect. And if someone tries to explain to a friend that they won’t be attending a function, they won’t say ‘no’, they’re more likely to say ‘maybe I’ll go’.

One wonders if artificial intelligence will ever be able to resolve these ‘human’ situations.

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