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Off topic: Why oh why can so many Japanese people NOT write in Japanese?
Thread poster: yonyon
yonyon
Australia
Local time: 00:05
English to Japanese
+ ...
Oct 29, 2008

I don't know when and where the 国語教育 in Japan started failing but it is really appallying how many Japanese people no longer can express their thoughts in their maternal (and in many cases, their only) language. I think the phenomenon is fairly recent. I've read some discussion transcript from a diet session in 1925 or 1926, and the statements were all crystal clear. In the space of 80 years, how have we come to this?!

Sorry, I need to put it off my chest. I'm working on a document from hell from yesterday. Every five minutes I stray off and come here to get away from this incomprehensible document written by an industry-leading engineer. And for the record, I am a native Japanese and was educated all my life in Japan. And it is not about me not understanding the subject matter. It is about a sentence having two subject words back to back and no verb phrase, or four object words back to back, any of which cannot logically be the object of the only verb in the sentence. In other words, this guy does not seem to have learned the distinction between が、を、は。And he IS a native Japanese.

I think that Japan seriously needs to review its national language education especially for the scientific-minded. They will become brilliant scientists and engineers in the future, who won't be able to share their brilliant ideas in any language other than mathmatical formulae and computer languages. And here is my question: Why can they learn computer languages and yet fail to learn their maternal language? Which is easier? Come on!

I can never explain why the Japanese language is so hard to learn for its native speakers. It's probably not about the difficulty of the language itself. It's something about training the mind to think logically as one speaks. Maybe because the language does not force you to be strict with the sentence structure, you do not cultivate the capacity to think logically. I don't know.

I have 7 more pages to go. Sigh...:cry:


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Krzysztof Łesyk  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:05
Japanese to English
+ ...
Hang in there! Oct 29, 2008

I know it's probably not much of a consolation, but the problem is not limited to Japanese. I have the exact same feeling reading texts written recently in my native Polish (relatively few documents, as I don't translate from/to Polish, but discussion forums or news? Ye gods!) or in English. It seems to me that, in general, the quality of language, any language, written or spoken, is declining... I give you that though - the linguistic inventiveness of Japanese engineers caused me to mutter obscenities under my breath more than once ^-^

Then again, there's also another way to look at it. As language professionals and in a way language connoisseurs too, we might just be too picky. It's just like a person who doesn't know anything about wine happily drinking Beaujolais Nouveau and enjoying the light, fruity taste while a wine lover frowns at the very mention of the name. It's like trying to explain the difference between Rubinstein's Chopin and Ashkenazy's Chopin to a person not listening to classical music - you will be met with a blank stare and a comment along the lines of "it's the same damn song, right? I don't really notice a difference!".

What I'm trying to say is that we should always remember - we're the linguistic equivalent of classical music fans, lovers of old wine and appreciators of the smelliest of Gorgonzola cheeses. Does that make us better than the rest? Well... yes, yes it does, (*snigger*) but we're unfortunately in the minority and the majority simply doesn't seem to care. Just take consolation in the fact that you will translate that text from hell and you will actually make it beautiful and easily understandable - while most literal translators strive to produce a mere shadow of the original prose or poetry, many technical translations that we produce are easily better than the original texts - long live technical translation! Hip hip, hurray!


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yonyon
Australia
Local time: 00:05
English to Japanese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Good for cleaning. Oct 29, 2008

Hi, thanks for your reply.
You wrote:
"Just take consolation in the fact that you will translate that text from hell and you will actually make it beautiful and easily understandable."

I don't know about that this time. This document is really messed up. I'm not sure if I can produce a comprehensible translation out of it.

But hey, let's look at the bright side. The good thing about this kind of a job is that you suddenly find within yourself the power to clean the corner of your kitchen you never wanted to clean before! A clean corner appeared in my kitchen today, and I am very satisfied with the result.:smile:

And I have six more pages to go....


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conejo  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:05
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
I feel for you Oct 29, 2008

*Hugs* You're almost done. Hang in there.

Well, I have heard various theories on this subject. The opinion of one native Japanese that I know who was college educated in both Japan and the US is that in Japan a lot of college curriculums do not require people to take the equivalent of a first-year-university writing class like we have in the US, and that there is not much emphasis in the education system, even in high school, about writing, or the logic or clarity therein. Much more is made of reading what someone else wrote, than teaching students how to write clearly. I agree with this in terms of education mentality: when I was going to school in Japan, in the English classes, there was very little emphasis at all on people learning how to express their thoughts in English... it was all about reading some text in English, not generating writing themselves. So it may be a cultural phenomenon in this respect.

Of course another thing would be the vagueness that tends to be inherent in the language, more so than in other languages--for example I would say that in general English has to be clearer because you can't just omit words like you can in Japanese and still have a sentence that makes any sense to anyone. The idea of 察する makes things complicated as well... a lot of times in Japanese people want other people to assume what they really mean instead of actually stating it clearly, and this may be viewed at times as being a more refined or elegant style of writing rather than brutishly stating everything (lol).

Then, another thing is probably the 先生 mentality, where in many cases in Japan it is assumed off the bat that a 先生/prominent person in a field knows what he is talking about, and that if the reader/audience does not understand, it is due to the reader/audience's ignorance of the topic, and not due to any fault of the writer/先生. Whereas in English, if the writer does not write in a clearly understandable manner, usually it is thought to be the fault of the writer for not writing clearly--he/she may be fabulous in his/her field of expertise, but could be a poor writer.

Anyway just my thoughts... but yes it would be a good thing if Japanese schools and colleges would improve education on logic and clarity of writing.

[Edited at 2008-10-29 10:01]


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yonyon
Australia
Local time: 00:05
English to Japanese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
additional thoughts on disfunctional maternal language Oct 30, 2008

Thanks, conejo, for your kind words of support.

I think I'm out of the woods today. When you finish half of the task, it always feels better.

I agree with your point about the 先生memtality. It is true that a Japanese speaker, especially a VIP speaker, tends to expect the audience to decipher his/her statement.

I was also thinking that the elimination of the Chinese language education in Japan is a part of the reason. Until the beginning of the 20th century, Japanese intellectuals often used Chinese writing (not pronunciation) for official communication. My father (85 yr old) can still read Chinese document written by a Japanese intellectual. (He can't read Chinese written by a Chinese, maybe because the Japanized Chinese is not the same as the true Chinese.) When a Japanese scholar thinks in that version of Chinese, it seems that he/she can think clearly and logically all of a sudden. Maybe, the Japanese language was allowed to develop as a strictly colloquial language with no refinement for writing or thinking, and we lost the ability to think logically in our own language.

I had a very interesting experience about 5 years ago. I was assigned to translate some biochemical paper for an assistant professor and it was very complicated, so my agency hired a general proofreader, and a native English biochemist as the second-level proofreader. The first proofreader checked that there was no obvious translation or grammatical mistake, and the second proofreader checked if the document made any scientific sense. And IT DIDN'T, despite the fact that it was grammatically correct. So my agency decided to be honest about it to the client, and the client read the translation together with his mentor (a professor) and concluded that his paper was not worth publishing in either language, becaus his thinking was illogical from the study design phase. Isn't it remarkable? It took the whole English translation process for him, and his mentor, to realise that he was not thinking logically.

So, I think we should revert to thinking and writing in Chinese for official purposes.

Just kidding. It would make our work too impossible.:razz:


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Rod Walters  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 22:05
Japanese to English
Astronaut garbage Nov 25, 2008

I once translated a paper by one of Japan's few astronauts, and after all the repetitions, empty phrases, and unintelligible flailing was stripped from the text, there was nothing left. However, it was a deep honour for me to make such a distinguished gentleman sound like an intelligent adult in English.

[Edited at 2008-11-25 07:14 GMT]


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Geraldine Oudin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Japanese to French
+ ...
Japanese Educational System Mar 20, 2009

Yonyon, you don't know how many time I've asked myself the question.
After a lot of (or maybe just a little of) thinking I decided to blame the Japanese Educational System.
I think if pupils had to put their thoughts in writing during exams things may would be different.
Unfortunately most tests at Japanese schools involve nothing more than multiple choice questions.
Japanese pupils are trained to memorise, not to think, let alone putting their thoughts in writing...


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Tracy Greenwood  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:05
Japanese to English
Rod, I've been there May 2, 2009

Rod Walters wrote:

I once translated a paper by one of Japan's few astronauts, and after all the repetitions, empty phrases, and unintelligible flailing was stripped from the text, there was nothing left. However, it was a deep honour for me to make such a distinguished gentleman sound like an intelligent adult in English.

[Edited at 2008-11-25 07:14 GMT]


I was an interpreter for an international conference. Every speaker spent the first 5 minutes giving kudos to all the previous speakers, and empty statements like "Well, here we are at the 20th anniversary of (whatever event) in Tokyo. We just heard from a colleague from Osaka and a colleague from Nagoya."

When I looked out in the audience and saw that most of the people in attendance were asleep, I knew I was doing my job.

T


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