How to (not) interview in Japanese

While browsing for interviewing tips in Japanese, I came across the following video, teaching viewers about how to talk about their hobbies. I encourage you to watch at least the first 20 or so seconds of the video, which is the “bad example.”

And to break it down for you (with appropriate subtitles):

And then he just sits there confidently, shining that brilliant sports-loving smile. Hired.

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Learn Korean in North Korea: A Summer Language Course

Pyongyangmal North Korean Language Summer Course at Yanbian University

I can’t remember how exactly I stumbled upon this, but apparently this is a brand new language learning course for college students (undergrad and graduate) wanting to learn Korean. North Korean, that is.

That’s right.

Although students live on a Chinese University campus for ten weeks for the duration of the program (I suppose living in North Korea would be a little too much to ask, although I’m not sure if you’d want to do it), the classes are taught by North Korean instructors and the course includes multiple excursions into North Korea for sightseeing and language practice. And worshipping the Dear Leader from time to time, of course.

I tried to get some of my friends’ opinions about the course. Reactions were generally mixed, ranging from “that’s pretty damn awesome” to “you just want to say you went to North Korea, not really worth it” to “if you do it you will die.” Perhaps the coolness of factor of telling-off my fellow classmates who are planning to study abroad in lame countries like Germany and Spain that I was in Mother-Fucking-North-Korea is playing a role here, but I must say I’m genuinely interested.

Think about it—the chance to learn a language that you literally would not be able to learn anywhere else. Yeah, North Korean is mostly just a dialect of the Korean in south Korea, but it’s not like I can just pick up a textbook and go study North Korean, or go online and find a North Korean speaking buddy (unless my speaking buddy wants to risk his very life to say “hello” to me via Skype). The usefulness of the program is questionable—I certainly can’t say I want to learn the language because I want to travel to North Korea (that’s not exactly a viable option), but it’s not like it’s a completely different language from what is used in South Korea.

But in the end, it’s an experience (at a $4,600 price tag) that isn’t exactly easy to forge by yourself. As good as you think you are at self-studying, I’m willing to bet there’s no other way to learn how to speak like someone from North Korea without this course, unless you’re able to find work that somehow involves interacting with people from North Korea. Perhaps International Spy is on your dream job list…?

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A fresh batch of Japanese sex-vocabulary: 下ネタなんでだろう(歌)

If you’re looking for Japanese that you’re not going to find in any textbook, then sex-slang is certainly at the top of your list. While books like Dirty Japanese might have something useful, I’ve mentioned before that books like that tend to have a bunch of terms that are old or outdated, but are left in simply to enhance the book to a reasonable size for publishing—the author has no real incentive to keep the book updated with current content while cutting outdated or stranger words. So if you missed out on AJATT’s Moe Sentence Pack (apparently full of dirty vocabulary), then I suspect this post (and the longer videos linked below) should be more than satisfactory for your “learning” needs.

After all, it’s either use this, or just open up one of the educational videos you recently downloaded in that that 12 gb folder you having laying around your computer. You know, the one titled “Puppies and Kitties (MOM, DO NOT OPEN),” I know it’s there somewhere.

—-

So luckily, I came across a new language-learning website (new for me at least) called RhinoSpike. The premise is pretty simple—you have pieces of text in a language you’re learning, and you want the audio of a native speaker saying your text out loud. Alternatively, you have some audio in the language you’re learning, and you need a transcription of it. Both are possible to get at RhinoSpike (although audio recordings are much more popular) as long as you record or transcribe another user’s request in return.

The premise is interesting, and custom audio made out of text of your choosing—perfect for your shadowing practice (you have been shadowing daily, right??)—is quite neat. I would just warn potential users not to get too into using the site. An audio file of a lengthy text or transcription of a long video is enough to keep anyone at a high-intermediate level or below occupied for quite a while. And by “get too into,” I mean get obsessed with recording for other users without practicing on your own. I know, for example, I’ve wasted many an hour correcting the English of various users on Lang-8 without actually working on a post in Japanese myself!

That said, the point of this post today is to share an absolute gem I found in the transcriptions section of RhinoSpike. I present to you 下ネタなんでだろう (Literally: Dirty Joke, I wonder why? although I might consider translating in context as simply Why does this (shit) happen? — you’ll see when we get to the translation) , a song by みうらじゅん (Miura Jun), a manga artist who has also branched out into doing other things as well, such as songs.

The song here is one of the dirtiest and funniest things I’ve seen in Japanese (although like most Japanese comedy, puns still continue to make up a bulk of the humor), and thanks to the wonderful transcriptions by smokedoyster and tomoch of RhinoSpike, it’s now much easier to understand and translate into English!

下ネタなんでだろう

Why does this shit happen?

嫌だと言いつつあそこがぬれぬれなんでだろう?

Why do you say “no” when your pussy is so wet?

今日のワン子のタイトルにドッキとするのなんでだろう?

???

ソープ嬢がゼリーを塗っている時寂しい思いをするのなんでだろ?

Why do girls at brothels get lonely when they lubricate themselves?

ラブホのカミソリ品質悪いのなんでだろ?

Why are the razors at Love Hotels such bad quality?

あいつとやったらちんぽがかゆいのなんでだろ?

Why does your penis get itchy when you’re about to do it?

神社の裏で大量にエロ本見つかるのなんでだろう?

Why is there so much porn at the bottom of Shinto shrines?

バックでやる時違う子想像するのなんでだろ?

When doing it from behind, why do you think of someone else?

前立腺やられると癖になるのはなんでだろ?

Why do you get addicted to doing it in the g-spot?

フェラの時だけおいしいって聞くのはなんでだろ?

Why does she only say “delicious” when giving you a blow job?

シオを吹いてもおしっこの匂いがするのはなんでだろ?

Why does it smell like piss when she’s blowing you?

処女だというのにアナルを許すのなんでだろ?

Why does she let you go down on her even when she’s a virgin?

口内発射の後キスをしたくないのはなんでだろ?

Why doesn’t she want to kiss you after you cum in her mouth?

フニャチンのままいっちゃう事あるのはなんでだろ?

When you can’t get hard why do you cum anyway?

授業中、勃起して机が持ち上がっちゃうのはなんでだろ?

When you get a boner in the middle of class, why does your desk get lifted up?

パンティー脱がしてふとももで止めるのなんでだろ?

Why do girls stop removing their panties after they reach their thighs?

行く時必ず行っていいって聞くのなんでだろ?

Why does she always say “It’s fine to leave” when you’re leaving?

セックスの後よかったって聞奴なんでだろ?

Why do some people ask “was it good?” after sex?

クンニのしすぎで唇腫れるのをなんでだろ?

Why do your lips get swollen after going down on a girl for too long?

穴ならどこでも入れたくなるのはなんでだろ?

Why is that whenever there’s a hole you want to fuck it?

生理と聞いたとたん突然さめるのなんでだろ?

Why is that when she says she’s on her period you suddenly realize what you’re doing?

アワビを見るため見てるな言うやつなんでだろ?

Why do some guys say “I’m not looking” in order to watch a girl jack off? (probably wrong on this)

松茸見る度勝ち負け言う奴なんでだろ?

Why do some guys compare their penis size when they see a Pine Mushroom (a very penis-y looking mushroom)

なんでだろう、なんでだろう、下ねたなんでだろ?

Why does this happen? Why does this happen? Why does this dirty shit happen?

The rest of the transcription can be found on the RhinoSpike site, although I don’t think I’m up for translating much more of it at the moment. I admit that the translation thus far has been a bit of a learning experience for me, but doing this in a public library has made me somewhat nervous about continuing (especially when I need to rely on Google Images in order to figure out what some of the sex slang is actually referring to…).

At any rate, I’m certainly taking the AJAAT credo of “Any Japanese is Good Japanese” to its absolute limit by trying to understand this…song. The song sounds a lot funnier in Japanese than it does in English (although that could be the result of my clunky translations that are likely inaccurate or plain wrong), and for those who just can’t get enough, NicoNico video has two additional videos of the same material, clocking in at 14 minutes and 23 minutes respectively. Even the Japanese commenters on NicoNico video make plenty of comments while watching the full-length videos, including ones like “way too long” and “I can’t believe there is still 20 minutes left on this video.”

However, I think I’ll leave it to you to see if you can make it through an additional 30 some minutes of what you’ve just seen above.

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How Japanese People Learn English…And Why it Isn’t Working

The golden rule of English teaching pedagogy in Japan: The more blond your hair and pointy your nose, the better you are at teaching English. Also, and saying "OH" in English is hilarious.

As the Asia Times has previously reported, Japanese people aren’t so hot at learning English compared to their East Asian peers:

Indeed, the average score of Japanese candidates sitting for the Test of English as a Foreign language (TOEFL) ranks lowest among all Asian nations except North Korea. In fact, Japan ranks just below Myanmar.

Now that’s pretty bad, but perhaps just using the TOEFL isn’t a good measure of English ability? What about using the results form another test by Education First where Japan scores fairly high (ranked 14 out of 44) rather than bottom of the pack? But at the same time, the Education First test apparently does little to test speaking and listening skills.

Obviously, then, what the people of Japan need to work on is English communication. Talking with Westerners. Speaking both with and like other native English speakers. Learning about western culture. Making that Western culture a real part of their lives. You get the picture. If they want to speak like us, they need to be like us.

Clearly.

So I decided to do some research of English learning resources targeted at Japanese speakers. And while I had originally planned on doing some real, serious research that would uncover the dark conspiracy that is keeping Japanese people from learning English, that quickly ended when I found a certain DVD on “Dangerous English” by American-born gaijin talent Dave Spector:

DVD cover to "Dave Spector's Dangerous English" 「デーブ・スペクターの使うとヤバ~イ英会話」

You might be wondering what in the world the Japanese would consider “Dangerous English.” Luckily, there’s a wonderful trailer available on Youtube. Enjoy.

If you don’t know Japanese, the premise of the entire DVD is pretty simple: it’s nothing but a bunch of puns from either Japanese words that sound like dirty English words (or occasionally, from terrible mispronunciations of English words that the Japanese speaker can’t say correctly). For example, all the men in the restaurant in the video around 3:30 start dropping their pants after the girl makes a certain, unfortunate pronunciation error on the word “cook.”

And putting aside the issue of a large number of men dropping their pants in a public restaurant around a Japanese girl, the over-the-top stereotypes of American are also pretty hilarious. Suffice to say, I wanted to find the whole video—I couldn’t let my research on English learning material for Japanese people end with a infomercial! Since Amazon doesn’t ship the DVD outside of Japan, I managed to find a great solution—online video rentals.

Enter, Videx.

Unlike some other video rental sites online, Videx doesn’t seem to be super-restrictive on what country you’re from—at the very least, non-Japanese IPs are able to access and purchase content—which is better that most Japanese-targeted sites. So making one of the strangest rental purchases of my life, I downloaded and watched the full “Dangerous English” video.

It was… interesting. Basically, the same stuff as on the trailer, but more of it. I didn’t feel totally satisfied in my purchase until the end of the video, though, when we the viewers are treated to “Top 5” lists of curse words in English for both men and women. Here’s the list for women:

Top 5 curse words for women. The bubble reads, "Say it out loud!"

Gotta love that flawless proofreading that only those suns of bitches down in Japan can so consistently provide.

And, the list for men:

Top 5 for men. Which one of these words is not like the other...?

I can’t say I use “cock titty balls sucker” as much as the other words on the list, but perhaps I’ll have to make an effort lest I be labeled as un-American.

The takeaway from the video was a dual message, one about American culture, and one about the English language in America. First, that all Americans carry guns, and therefore talking with an American is dangerous, as you’ll be at a high risk for murder should you choose to do so. The gun stereotype sounds pretty over-the-top, but you’d be surprised. I once had a conversation with a Japanese girl:

GIRL: So do you have a gun?

ME: Uh, no?

GIRL: Really?? I thought everyone in America had one…

ME: Um, I think you’re mistaken.

GIRL: Is your gun locked up somewhere?

ME: I don’t own one at all.

GIRL: But your parents own guns, right?

ME: No! In fact, I don’t know anyone who owns a gun at all.

GIRL: Wow, no way! *Insert stereotypical Japanese-sounding OOOOooh sound here*

In the end, she seemed pretty disappointed. I’m pretty sure she didn’t believe I was actually American after that. I didn’t have an American flag hanging up in my room either after all!

The second message in the vide about language was that adding the word “fuck” every 2-3 words is a proper, American tradition. Depending on what part of the country you’re in, I can’t exactly disagree with that, though.

Although I have gotten offtrack after writing this post, one possible conclusion is: I would hesitate to recommend Dave Spector’s DVD for the serious learning of English.

Hope that helps!

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Picking up Japanese Girls: Learning from the Best

Charisma man comic

Japan: Living the dream

As yesterday was Valentine’s day, I’ve decided to share some advice on how to woo the Japanese ladies. Because I obviously have lots of experience in this field, right? And because if you follow my rigorously-tested PUA-style tips, you’ll suddenly become a Charisma Man yourself, capable of attracting J-girls like flies are attracted to syrupy, sugary mounds of goodness, right?

Well, no, not really.

But, one thing to recognize here is that the Charisma Man in the comic above has pretty poor Japanese. All he does is use the 私・・は・・です formation, which is pretty much the first thing you pick up in Japanese 101. Don’t you want to be just a bit more awesome than that? Don’t you want to be ready to bust out some really syrupy, sugary, chocolate-filled nuggets of Japanese in order to impress the ladies?

Of course!

So the best places I’d recommend searching to go find such lines would be anything that isn’t a “How to Pick Up Japanese Girls” or “How to speak Dirty Japanese” book. Because while those sorts of books may have some value, the only way they also have any sizable amount of content is because most of the content is terrible. Filler. No longer used by anyone in Japan…ever. And besides, if you’re buying books like that, let’s be honest: your Japanese probably isn’t exactly up to snuff either.

So where do you find good “pick up lines” in Japanese? Well, I’ll take the AJATT approach on this one: straight out of genuine Japanese media. Anime, Manga (especially Shojou, I bet), Jdramas—take your pick.

Nisemonogatari Episode 6

Here’s an example courtesy of Araragi from Nisemonogatari:

「お前は知らないのかもしらないけどさ、僕はお前は愛しているんだよ・・・いつでも一緒にいたい。」

“You may not know this, but I love you…I want to be with you all the time.”

「うっかりするとどうしてお前と付き合ってるのかわからなくなってしまうけれど…理由なんか必要無いくらいお前が好きだ。」

“Sometimes I don’t know why I’m dating you. But I love you so much, I don’t need a reason.”

The first line may have a bit too much cheese for the average person, but the second one—the one about not needing a reason—really just straight up owns. The girl’s (Senjogahara’s) reaction is therefore appropriate: 「ヤバすぎ。超絶かっこいい」”Oh no…so incredibly cool.”

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann episode 8

But perhaps you’re too cool to spin off a line like that. Maybe you need a more Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann-type response. If so, Kamina has you covered. After going in for a kiss, his response to Yoko is:

「おまえ・・・. 10倍返しだ。 戻ったら、10倍返しだ。 」

You… I’ll repay that… I’ll repay that ten times over

Yoko laughs at Kamina after he answers, but come on, you’re at least as cool as Kamina, right? You should be able to handle the delivery no problem.

Moteki episode 4

Or maybe you’re just looking for some good confession Japanese to help you settle the deal? Girl been giving you a hard time, but you want to show just how romantic you can be once and for all? Then perhaps a typical line from Moteki might be what you’re looking for:

「好きだよ。俺の人生の中で一番好きだったよ。今でも・・今でも好きだよ。」
I love you. You’re the one I loved the most in my life. Even now… even now I still love you.

I have to admit that all of the lines here aren’t delivered without a nice helping of romantic cheese. Perhaps J-Girls are into that—the straightforward confession of love, or perhaps the simple raw emotional power of saying “I love you” itself (cue a slow procession of ha ha ha’s here). At the same time, though, I can’t say I’m unhappy during these scenes either—after all, watching awkward characters have awkward encounters with one another without either one being able to actually say what they’re feeling (I’m looking at you, Freeter, Ie o Kau) is just painful after the first time. I get it, you’re awkward but you like each other—get to the good stuff already!

That’s all for now—but any love-related Japanese media should have plenty of lines for the grabbing. Not to mention I do have a copy of Love Plus sitting around my house somewhere

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A concerned 63-year-old housewife writes in:

I came across a funny article while browsing through the archives of the Yomiuri Shimbun, one of Japan’s major newspapers. My translation follows after each paragraph of text.

January 16, 2008

流行のKYより、美しい日本語を

Rather than trendy words like KY; how about proper Japanese?

主婦 63歳(大阪府東大阪市)

By a housewife, age 63 (From East Osaka)

最近、KY「空気読めない」という言葉をラジオやテレビでよく耳にするようになったが、若者から流行したということを本紙(5日)で初めて知った。

Although I’ve been hearing terms like “KY” (kuuki yomenai) on the radio and television more often, I recently discovered some new words made popular by young people from reading this newspaper.

ATMが「アホな父ちゃんもういらへん」とは驚きだ。父親を大切にしない風潮だと思うと情けなくなる。ATMとは現金自動預け払い機だと、我々中高年は誰でも思うだろう。

For example when I learned the meaning of “ATM,” which stands for “I’m fed up with my stupid dad,” I was very shocked. I’m deplored at this growing tendency not to honor one’s father! After all, anyone else reading “ATM” would simply think it means “Automated Teller Machine.”

MK5が「マジキレる5秒前」、MMが「マジムカつく」とか、今の若者の辛抱のなさを表している略語だ。ローマ字式略語約400語を収集したミニ辞典「KY式日本語」が出版されたというが、これ以上、日本語を乱してほしくない。

Not to mention other abbreviations that have appeared like “MK5” (I’ve five seconds away from blowing my top), MM (seriously pissed off), etc, which reveal just how little patience today’s youth seems to have. With over 400 abbreviations that use English characters, we now have published mini-dictionary’s like “KY Japanese” that compile these phrases. I hope nothing happens to destroy the Japanese language.

今の日本は美しい日本語をあまりにも大事にしていないのではないだろうか。若者に迎合するのではなく、まず大人がきれいな日本語で話してみてはどうだろう。

It seems as if proper, well-written Japanese is no longer important in Japan today. Instead of pandering to what the youth are doing, how about adults lead by trying to speak with correct Japanese?

Honestly, reading this kind of article is kind of cute—especially since you’ve got the same kind of old biddies here in America trying to crack down on the decay of the English language too. While I don’t think I’d be too happy to see “lol” and “omg” used in actual essays in English, it seems as if the old fart that wrote the article above is against the use of abbreviations in all forms of communication, with a desire to bring back “correct” (literally: beautiful) Japanese.

Good luck with that.

The only people who use “correct” Japanese anymore are old housewives in Japanese dramas and the entire cast of Winter Sonata (which, not so surprisingly, drew its massive fan base in Japan from women ages 50-70. Go figure). And they sound weird too. Seriously, don’t try to emulate them, unless you’re trying to impress 63 year old women from Osaka. And something tells me that’s the last group on your mind.

The book she mentions in the article “KY Japanese” appears to be this one (KY式日本語―ローマ字略語がなぜ流行るのか 0r “KY Japanese: Why have English Character Abbreviations become popular?). I haven’t read it, but it looks fairly interesting—I may try to pick it up in the future at some point.After all, searching for a good, serious treatment of Japanese abbreviations (especially in English) brought up only this article (Linguistic Innovations and Interactional Features of Casual Online Communication in Japanese), which has a nice, long academic title, but honestly doesn’t dive too deeply into anything one couldn’t gleam from simply reading 2ch for a few minutes. Big deal.

Also, KY Japanese has a funny 1-star review posted for it on Amazon:

雑学として気楽に読むなら問題ない。でも、間違った日本語を使っている人が読むと、もっと馬鹿になるよ。時間があったら、国語辞典を開いてほしい。

This is fine for miscellaneous information. But, if someone who already uses incorrect Japanese reads this, he’s just going to become stupider. If you have the time to read this, try opening up a real dictionary instead.

Gotta love it. Seriously, I can’t be the only one who goes through 1-star reviews of products (often of products I’ve already purchased and enjoyed) just to see what people can come up with to slam it. Must be some kind of sick masochism, perhaps.

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Machine Translation Vs. Human Translation: How far we’ve come!

In high school I took a Spanish class that required me to read news articles once a week and construct intelligent, two paragraph responses to be neatly organized in a notebook to be turned in for a major grade—equivalent to a test—at the end of each quarter of the year.

And while it was a noble, well-intentioned attempt at getting us high school kiddies to get some Spanish writing practice in on a regular basis, I admit that even I, despite being a paragon of excellence back in high school (or so they thought), could not resist the urge to rely on my friend Mr. Google Translate to aid in some of the writing process.

In other words: in went the English (avoiding any tricky idioms), out came the Spanish. I tweaked a few obvious errors here and there, but really the hardest part of the writing process was simply copying it all down by hand into the notebook. There, I’ve said it! I’ve confessed my heinous crimes! I was nothing but a fraud, a cheat, a third-rate Spanish swindler if you must!

But when it came time to turn in my notebook for its quarterly grading I proudly handed over my notebook chock-full of machine translated Spanish. Surely I would pay the price when the notebook would be returned, right? My teacher would clearly see how intelligible, how obviously machine-translated my words were, and would mark me down accordingly. Right?

Wrong. I got my notebook back the next week. Grade: A.

Now, you might take this example and say my Spanish teacher was simply inept. That she didn’t read the entries very carefully, valuing amount of words of any sort of accuracy, and perhaps that’s true. Perhaps had she been a native Spanish speaker (she wasn’t) she would have been able to more easily notice sentences that were grammatically correct but that used unnatural language. But perhaps she simply saw the machine translation and actually thought, “wow, this may have a few errors but it’s still very good” (for high school, at least). Has machine translation really come that far?

* * *

I stumbled across a paper today titled Can Computer Translation Replace Human Translation? by Karen Schairer, PhD, assistant professor at Northern Arizona University.   The paper looks at Spanish translation—I unfortunately couldn’t find anything equivalent that used Japanese, so this will have to do.

In terms of internet years, the paper is ancient—it was published in 1996—but I was intrigued by the question posed in its title and decided to take a quick gander at its results and conclusion.

In the paper you’ve got three pieces of English-to-Spanish translation software, all with pretty laughable 90s-sounding names like Spanish Amigo, Spanish Assistant, and Spanish Scholar. They also come with pretty laughable marketing descriptions:

Inability to read and write a foreign language doesn’t mean you can’t get a piece of the international trade bonanza. Thanks to our automated language translation programs, you can do business in English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian—without having to learn the language

If I didn’t know it, I would swear I was reading satire. They actually used the word bonanza.

And in the paper the translation results of these three programs are tested against a human translator’s translation from English-to-Spanish. So in total you have four Spanish sentences being generated for each English sentence being tested—3 machine translated ones, and one human-translated sentence. Each of these 4 sentences are then rated by native Spanish speakers (both with Spanish as a dominant language, and Spanish as non-dominant) for translation accuracy on a 5-point scale.

So how’d the 1996 software do?

The first example they give translations of is the English sentence, “During the past year, do you believe the level of crime in your neighborhood has increased, decreased, or remained about the same?”

Human Translation: “Durante el año pasado, ¿cree Ud. que el nivel o índice de criminalidad en su vecindad ha aumentado, ha diminuido, o ha quedado al mismo nivel?” (accuracy score: 5/5)

Spanish Amigo: “En el año pasado lo hace toca ese crimen en su barrio ha aumentado, menguante, o quedó acerca del mismo cuando estaba antes de.” (accuracy score: 1.9/5)

Dr. Schairer goes on in the paper to laugh at how bad Spanish Amigo’s translation turned out, and that it wasn’t even worth printing the other programs’ translations as it would be a complete waste of everyone’s time (I’m paraphrasing here). Even if you don’t know Spanish, the accuracy score will tell you the relative shittiness of the Spanish translation.

Let’s look at another example:

English: “All your answers will be confidential”

Human Translation: “Todas sus respuestas serán confidenciales.”  (accuracy score: 5/5)

Spanish Assistant: “Todo (lo) que (usted) contesta será confidencial.” (accuracy score: 3.3)

Spanish Amigo: “Todo (lo que) usted contesta serán confidencial.” (accuracy score: 2.1)

Spanish Scholar: “Todo (lo que) tú contestas serás confidencial.” (accuracy score: 1.8/5)

Again, Dr. Schairer lays the poor 90s translation software a proper smack down: “[The English sentence] was so short and uncomplicated, determining which changes to make in post-editing took as long as simply translating the entire sentence directly from English to Spanish.”

Dayum, that is some serious machine-translation insult going on right there. I can tell she’s not a big fan of machine translation.

The author summarizes her findings and then concludes:

All sentences translated by the three computer programs required post-editing. Not one of the 69 translations received above 3.9 for accuracy. The human translator estimated that writing original translations from the English was as fast or faster than post-editing in all but six cases. In many cases, the translator had to refer to the English to determine what the Spanish should say. […]

Current technology as represented by [these programs] cannot yet replace qualified human translators. The challenge presented by the seemingly unpredictable nature of human languages is still best overcome by human beings.

And there you have it. Or at least, or there you had it, 16 years ago. Because as soon as I finished the paper I knew I had to retest those sentences. The author used some crappy BS Spanish translation software back in 1996. What would happen if she were to repeat the study using sleek and refined Google Translate? Who would be laughing at crappy language software from the 90s then?

Let’s look at the first sentence again, its human translation, and then Google’s whack at it. Unfortunately, I am not qualified to hand out accuracy scores for Google’s version.

English: During the past year, do you believe the level of crime in your neighborhood has increased, decreased, or remained about the same?

Human Translation: “Durante el año pasado, ¿cree Ud. que el nivel o índice de criminalidad en su vecindad ha aumentado, ha diminuido, o ha quedado al mismo nivel?”

Google Translation: “Durante el año pasado, ¿cree que el nivel de delincuencia en su barrio ha aumentado, disminuido o permanecido igual?”

Not too shabby! Sure, it’s not a perfect match compared to the human translation, but compared to the intelligible rubbish Spanish Amigo managed to shit out a decade-and-a-half ago, it’s damn close. The structure of the sentence basically mirrors the human version, with only a few words perhaps not as natural as they could have been.

Let’s move on to the “short and uncomplicated” sentence:

English: “All your answers will be confidential”

Human Translation: “Todas sus respuestas serán confidenciales.”

Google Translation: “Todas sus respuestas serán confidenciales.” (accuracy score: 5/5, bitches)

Oh snap son, would you look at that. I may not be qualified to gauge the accuracy of Spanish sentences, but I’m pretty sure that’s the same damn thing. Sorry translator profession people, the days of simply being bilingual will no longer be fetching you any cushy translation jobs.

Now of course, there are two things to remember here. First, these are pretty cut-and-dry sentences that don’t require much interpretation, and there’s pretty much no slang or any idiomatic expressions present at all. Second, Spanish and English are incredibly close languages, and I’m sure the Google database has a nice big fat amount of information to work off of between those two languages, compared to say, Thai.

I just thought it was interesting to see how far machine translation has come, since it’s still painted as pretty useless for most things other than just barely gisting a meaning out of some text. And perhaps we should give more credit to my poor Spanish teacher, because when Google translate starts spitting out accurate translations that mirror what a real translator would write, determining what was real, and what wasn’t, gets harder and harder.

Will machine translation replace humans? Not in this lifetime. But after 16 years, it sure did get a lot better.

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