Engrish, or How Bad Translations Can End Up Being More Confusing Than Helpful.

Tourists Confused? "Funny English" All Over Japan

April 11, 2016

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Funny English, Engrish

The popularity of "Cool Japan" such as "samurai" and "ninja" has increased abroad, not to mention the recent expansion of J-POP culture. On the other hand, in Japan the opposite trend can be felt, with a strong leaning toward Western languages and especially English - which has become part of the panorama -, partly due to the increasing number of tourists visiting Japan from overseas

However, some of these English language signs have the contrary effect and sometimes confuse native English speakers, often inducing laughter. So let's take a look at such "Funny English" (also known as "Engrish") phrases, which are incorrect but seem perfectly natural to most Japanese people.

Confusing Signs

In many public facilities, English translations can be found written next to Japanese. And while these English phrases are displayed for "hospitality" reasons, some of them tend to confuse native English speakers instead.

"For Restrooms, Go back toward your behind"

For native English speakers who do not understand Japanese and have no idea about the location of the restroom; this notation is nothing but a puzzle. Aside from the involuntary innuendo, one is left perplexed, wondering about direction with expressions such as "Restroom in the rear", etc. So for widely used information signs, it may be safer to check what is generally used in the English-speaking world, where "Restrooms located behind you" can be found.

Literal Translation Often Makes for Funny English

Excessive use and reliance on translation sites can also be a cause of funny English. Translation sites are convenient: they provide an English translation for the Japanese words you wish to look up; but this is generally translated word-by-word through the use of a gigantic database, without rearranging the sentence in a natural order. Let's take a look at an example of the kind of funny English that can be achieved through translation site. The following sentence was written next to a shoe rack at a Japanese izakaya (restaurant/pub).

"The shoes which took off this place!"

Here, the sign says to "Please remove your shoes here," but it would probably be difficult to grasp that meaning, particularly for someone who is not even used to removing shoes when entering a room. For example, it would be clearer to translate it as "Remove your shoes here and place them inside this storage box."

Special Attention Should Be Given to Grammatical and Spelling Mistakes

Spelling and grammatical mistakes can lead to major misunderstandings, and therefore need to be checked carefully. Let's take an example based on a simple grammar mistake, one that is displayed near the priority seats (meant for aged and disabled persons) in trains, buses etc.

"Persons with the baby"

The use of the definite article "the" is problematic, while "a" would have made all the difference. The error is not an important one and the meaning can still be conveyed, but it could also have easily been corrected.

Next, we have an example of a misspelling featured on an airline company poster.

"Have a nice fright!"
Which is exactly the sort of embarrassing mistake air carriers want to avoid, at all costs...

The Importance of Proofreading by a Native Speaker

The increase of overseas visitors in Japan is accompanied by a rise in English language. Even for simple things, we Japanese want to offer a correct English equivalent, but some of these translations end up being slightly embarrassing. Therefore, I recommend having a native English speaker proofread each sentence, it is the best way to avoid the little - and big - mistakes a non-native is wont to make.

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