Facebook’s Awful Japanese Translations

A while ago, Facebook added the ability to translate statuses and comments in foreign languages. Now, this definitely seems like a great idea in theory — you can make friends with people from all around the world and even if you don’t speak the same language as them, you’ll still be able to know what they’re saying on Facebook!

Unfortunately, online translations suck. We’ve covered before how online translators work, and why they’re notoriously awful; we’ve also seen how they can backfire if you don’t know what you’re doing.

So pretty much without exception, every Facebook translation I’ve seen of something in Japanese has been wrong. Or at least weird. It’s not really Facebook’s fault that machine translations are bad, but it’s their fault for implementing it and thinking it would work out.

I gathered up a bunch of translations from Japanese-speaking friends on Facebook that I thought were weird and funny. I apologize in advance to all of my Facebook friends for plundering their statuses, but I’ve blacked out their names for the sake of anonymity.

This translation isn’t actually all that awful, but for some reason Facebook thought it was necessary to translate the emoticon. I assume that “⌒” is some sort of mathematical or scientific symbol for “without,” but I’m not quite sure why Facebook translates it along with the Japanese.

One of my Facebook friends took a picture of an airplane with a bunch of Pokemon painted on it, and here were the comments:

The translation should look something like:

“Nice!”
“It almost looks like a plane version of those cars painted with anime characters, haha”

But instead, Facebook translates it to:

“A good?!”
“If you mistake one step’s flight based on versions of “itasha” w”

You can almost understand the meaning of the Facebook translation, but it still doesn’t make any sense.

Here’s a pretty straightforward interaction: somebody wishing another person a happy birthday. Here’s how it should be translated:

“Happy birthday! I haven’t seen you in a while, how’s your husband?”

Simple enough, but Facebook sees it as:

“Congratulations on your birthday and! I have not seen for some time, well my husband are you?”

The sentiment is there, but the grammar is f#@%ed.

Here, one of my Facebook friends is talking about how fast his new phone is.

It should be something like:

LTE feels about twice as fast as 3G . . . and on an iPhone 5, haha

But instead comes out as:

3 G LTE is more about twice about 7Mbps early. And from the iPhone5 w.

But I probably get the most joy out of when Facebook tries to translate emoticons, like on our status a few weeks ago about emoticons/emoji/kaomoji:

What’s really bizarre is when Facebook decides to translate the kaomoji, but not the actual Japanese.

Have you seen really bad Facebook translations before? Screencap and share ‘em with us in the comments!


Header photo by Robert Scoble

  • Jeremie Lemonde

    Not only in Japanese, but also in my own language! Facebook already translated a French sentence… in French and it was messed up! Translator’s quality is a reason to learn a language in itself.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Well, yeah. That works well with other languages, too. Not just with Japanese!
    I have set my Facebook to English, so I see the “translation button” below comments that are written in my mother tongue (German) and sometimes I hit it just to get some entertainment for free! *gg*

  • I Eat My Pigeon

    In any language! I’m very anti-translators, except for vocabulary purposes (as it seems to be the only thing they can get right). My Italian friends always say they want to read the articles I publish (in English) and I’ve told them time and again to forget about using Google translate because it won’t work, but they insist they can still get “the meaning.” I’ve seen google’s Italian translations of my English articles. They can’t.

  • Anders Mårtensson

    Google Translate generally does a better job than Bing Translate in my experience. But I’m not surprised it doesn’t work – at least in the cases where they’re using slang or incorrect spelling. The happy birthday one for example – it says “omedeto” instead of the correct “omedetou” and “kai” is colloquial or whatever you’d call it. Not proper Japanese anyhow. The w for kakkowarai is internet slang and is messing up the whole sentence because it doesn’t know what to do with it and they’d need some kind of special algorithm to detect kaomoji or they won’t know if it’s some kind of algebraic formula or just random characters that aren’t supposed to be translated.

    It’d be like whining about it not properly translating English wen ur typin wit slang lyk dis, except less extreme of course. But the concept is the same – improper/incorrect language usage = hard to machine translate. Now, I know that they’re generally pretty bad at translating Japanese even without the slang (though it does a much better job with many other languages that are more closely related), but I’m just sayin’ that it’s probably a big contributing factor.

  • HorrorChan

    I have a friend who writes in Korean and no translator out there can ever make a coherent translation. xD Good thing he’s bilingual.

  • ZXNova

    Cause Google is just better than Bing in general.

  • Guest

    So I have this one friend who gets annoyed when I post in Japanese, and this is how he retaliates.

  • http://www.facebook.com/efranftw Erin Franzen

    I have this one friend who gets annoyed when I post in Japanese and posts the translation. This is the most recent incident…

  • Cat

    Taobao shopping with Google translate can give you a whole lot of these things. I’m not sure what it said to begin with, but I don’t think that “smash hole through breast”, “all babies radioactive” or “Japanese beauty two head smell good furniture” is what it’s supposed to say.

  • DAVIDPD

    That’s why Bing is a joke.

  • http://www.facebook.com/PeterStanton Peter Andrew Stanton

    I think the best one I saw was just a simple word which didn’t need translating (like ‘kawaii’, ‘sugoi’, ‘arigato’ etc.) but I clicked it anyway and it came out as something like “cancer death”.

  • Charon

    The “plane-version of an anime painted car” also should be 飛行機版, not 飛行基版. The former means “airplane (lit. flying machine) version” and the latter means “flying basis version”. This was likely a mistake in the input method that the writer didn’t notice during conversion, but it still screws with the machine translation.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    It responded to “kawaii” with “cancer?” Sounds like the translator’s been spending too much time on 4chan.

  • http://www.tadaimatte.com/ Ashley Haley

    I have friends who do this thinking they are being clever. Really irritating.

  • Emi

    While I’m a beginner, my ex (who holds no interest in Japanese and swears by Google translate) would often text or email me in Japanese, attempting to show interest. Needless to say, the texts NEVER made any sense to me until I translated it back to perfect English. More than anything, it pissed me off.

  • Mashimaro

    The funny thing about the second one is… 7mbps?! When did he say that! lol, he never even said 7…

  • Daisy

    I always translate my korean friend’s statuses on fb and they are worse with the japanese ones –_-

  • Etienne_Murase

    It was translated as “Congratulations on your birthday and!” because the u was left out of “omedetou”.