Of the many ways to enjoy studying a foreign language

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Lost in Translation

I must confess that I really hate it when people’s argument against foreign language is, “Everyone speaks English anyway,” or, “Just put it through Google Translate.” Google Translate is not at all effective. I only use it because its voices for various languages are pretty good, and I can get the pronunciation of a sentence that I write in.

Sure, translation is handy when you just don’t have the time to sit and learn the language, or when it’s a really short term thing. But there is a lot of stuff lost in translation, because what there are sentiments and concepts that exist as certain things in one language, and don’t translate completely into English or whatever other language it is. Famous examples on which lengthy papers and books have been written include saudade, sprezzatura, duende, and schadenfreude. There are very, very specific meanings, interpretations, and usages associated with these words, that are very hard to translate into another language.

A very good example exists in manga and anime. I myself do watch anime (though not much anymore, mostly because I tend to be picky) and read a few mangas. Manga, especially, is an example of imperfect translation. Translator notes around the panels often indicate the reason for a particular translation, or choice to leave a name in Japanese. For example, in the manga “Noragami,” the translator decided to translate the name of a character named Bishamonten as Vaisravana and Veena (different instances of the name). Bishamonten is derived from a name in Sanskrit from a Buddhist text. It makes very little sense to give the original name of the deity rather than what she is referred to as in the manga. Bishamonten holds more meaning in the original Japanese, and Vaisravana and Veena (which is even less appropriate, because it refers to an entirely different goddess from Hinduism, Saraswati) mean even less to English readers.

An example of an accurate and appropriate translation occurs in the anime Fairy Tail (though this may be because it’s been licensed and translated by more experienced translators). One of the protagonists’ names is Natsu, which means “summer,” in Japanese. Here, his name is not translated into English.

In the original Japanese text, any puns, jokes, or allusions apparent to Japanese readers will not be so obvious to English readers. Names play an important role in the way things are read in manga. This is because manga writers frequently do word plays and allusions to various things revolving around the way things are named.

Yet another example is a manga that my friend reads (the name escapes me right now), in which the female protagonist is frequently referred to as takane-no-hana, which means “a flower on a high peak.” The expression in Japanese refers to something out of one’s reach. This means absolutely nothing to the reader in English, so the translator decided to tell the reader in the beginning.

These are yet more reasons why you should learn another language, so that you can experience the original text in the way it was intended to be. Feel free to leave comments and share this post!

Requests!

Because it’s Labor Day, I’m kind of sitting at home with little to do. The Ganesh Chaturthi was this weekend, but that was the end of any real excitement. I’d love to take requests on topics concerning foreign language! Whether I’ll answer a question is really dependent whether I have the knowledge or can research it to tackle it or not. So, ask away!