in All Things Localization, Language & Culture

One of the great things about social media is that it can help people share small moments of significance, preserving a once-in-a-lifetime event that might have gone unnoticed and allowing everyone who cares about them to participate in the poster’s joy. This was the case when Takashi Yamazaki, director of the recent film Godzilla Minus One, had an unexpected encounter with a fan while attending an event following his film’s nomination for several visual effects Oscars – an already significant enough accomplishment for a film with a fraction of the budget of its competitors. The fan gushed about the film to him, claiming he’d seen it three times, and Yamazaki was so delighted that he gave the fan a small statue of the giant monster. However, this was no ordinary fan – it was Steven Spielberg who posed for pictures with the director and with the toy. Naturally, Yamazaki quickly took to Twitter to post about this chance meeting, and soon, every Godzilla fan could share his experience from afar.

That is if they were already fluent in Japanese.

Screenshot

When translated through the embedded Google Translate function, English-language readers were confounded by the tweet’s text. It read, “I have met God. What should I do now? She cried, but she watched Godzilla three times, said she liked the character, and happily gave me a Godzilla figure…” If a reader were to focus long and hard, they could perhaps see a vague outline of what the original tweet was supposed to say, but the distractions are both plentiful and jarring. The pronouns are wrong, the word choice is strange, and the subjects of the sentences are all over the place. In short, it’s a lot like Osaka after Godzilla has finished a battle with Mecha-Godzilla: the buildings are there, but they’re in many machine-mangled pieces.

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Fans on the r/Godzilla subreddit came up with their translations and, shockingly enough, began to discuss the failings of machine translation when it comes to converting Japanese text into English – it’s an all-too-common occurrence when trying to quickly translate the two. Curious about why this is, we asked several CSOFT’s Japanese linguists exactly why machine translation struggles with the language, and their responses were intriguing.

One wrote: “In this tweet, there is not a single subject mentioned. We just need to guess based on context. That’s something machine translation cannot do yet. There are many unsaid words when you speak in Japanese, especially in a casual tone. I suppose this is why machine translation struggles.”

Another added: “It is difficult to translate using Google as it is written in Kansai dialect, and Google doesn’t understand the situation.”

Finally, our last respondent summed up the situation plainly: “The reason Japanese is so hard for MT platforms is it is grammatically and structurally a completely different language from English. For example, German and English are grammatically and structurally similar and use more or less the same logic.”

Each also sent in their translation of the text and localization of the text, which were approximated in this example:

“I met a god-like man.

What am I going to do now?

I will just cry.

And he’s watched Godzilla three times.

He said the character was good.

He was also happy to receive the Godzilla figure…”

As you can see, we do what machine translation can’t with our vast linguistic knowledge base and subject-matter expertise: understand context, distinguish dialects, and smooth the transition between languages with skilled text localization. We don’t need to tell you that machine translation is an incredibly useful tool, but it takes skilled operation to do right. It’s the difference between Mecha-Ghidorah and Jet Jaguar: one is an example of human hubris, done with devil-may-care regard for potential planet-devastating consequences, and the other was created with good intentions and is a friend to all, including the denizens of Monster Island.

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Don’t let machine translation limit your message’s ability to be broadcast to a worldwide audience. CSOFT offers expert and timely translations for a wide variety of industries and industries. From engineering to healthcare to marketing, we have a solution to whatever cross-language communication problem you may face, with a wide network of skilled linguists and subject matter experts who can translate your project into any of the over 250 languages we cover. So, when you face your next kaiju-sized translation project, let us compliment your atomic breath with our strength, and together we can tackle any threat before it makes its way to the mainland. You’ll jump for joy – and here’s a GIF to prove it.

Happy Jump GIF by Max - Find & Share on GIPHY GIPHY

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