22 Apr Lost in Translation: Engrish in Japan
Being lost in translation is always an amusing circumstance, at least after the fact. I can’t help but laugh when recalling stories about translations gone wrong, and I always love reading posts that showcase poorly translated signs–they are just too funny!
But, bad translations aren’t the only troublesome scenarios for getting lost in translation; some words simply can’t be translated without a longer explanation of what the word means. This article about how translation has changed the world shares a variety of words that don’t have an English translation. One of my favorite examples is the German word “fernweh” meaning to be homesick for a place you’ve never been–we definitely experience that emotion quite often, and I’m sure many of you can relate, as well! And, after too much fernweh for Japan, we had to plan a trip and check it out for ourselves.
While in Japan, we spotted a magnitude of signs that left us chuckling. The Engrish displayed on signs, menus and guides was very entertaining to say the least. By the way, “Engrish” is the commonly used term for misspelled English words or phrases that are grammatically incorrect, as seen in Asian countries, and due to the differences in our languages, it totally makes sense. Native Japanese speakers often have a difficult time distinguishing between the letters “L” and “R”, and the languages are just so different that it’s hard to translate between the two easily and effectively.
And, as they so often do, bad translations go both ways–trying to translate from English to Japanese can cause some hilarious nuances, as well! I learned that something in the following sign means dog, but I’m sure that even my attempt at trying to recall the entire translation would be worthy of a chuckle to some.
Also, when you add in that most English displayed on signs in Japan is more for stylistic purposes than for function, it makes sense. Most native Japanese don’t even attempt to read the English words on a sign, so there isn’t much concern for getting it perfect.
Engrish references have found a home in mass culture–there is even an entire website dedicated to the amusing translations. I enjoy reading the various translations gone wrong, but it was even more fun to see them in person when we were in Japan.
Although we didn’t snap photos of even a fraction of the funny Engrish signs we came across, we did manage to capture a few. Here are some of our favorites:
Learning a second language is hard, as everyone well knows, so the best thing you can do is give it a try and have a sense of humor when you fail. If nothing else, try to learn at least a few key phrases of the local language when traveling. A smile and an attempt at the language always helps break the ice, and you never know, you might just have your own hilarious lost in translation moment!
Have you had any lost in translation moments? Share your favorites in the comments below!