Sunday, October 4, 2015

Fun with the Internet in Two Languages

As a Japanese language learner and English teacher, I know how often language learners try to speak by translating their thoughts. 
It's the default way we process a new language, but trying to directly translate your thoughts can result in misunderstandings and miscommunication. We learn starting so simply, "Apple" =りんご , but actually "equivalent" words each language produce different meanings in peoples' minds. Language is a tool for navigating life, so it follows that even simple words may not have an equivalent translatation in a culture with a different history and lifestyle. 
To truly use another language well, you have to figure out what your words in that language really mean to the people listening. Here is where Google comes in. It allows me to put words in the search bar and see the images (meanings) people most often associate with that word. Now I know this has its limitations; I'm not a Google analyst or a linguist so I don't have the tools to research or make good conclusions, so for me it's nothing more than a bit of fun. And it is funny to compare Google image search results in two languages! 

For example let's start with the most important meal of the day, breakfast vs. 朝ごはん!Which one has more calories?

How about people? It would seem "cute" is a word English speakers use more for things and animals, but 可愛い is sure used with young women a lot!

Blonde brought up images of (white) women first but 金髪 was (Asian) men first. Your guess is as good as mine.

Handsome men need a bit of facial hair, イケメン must be smooth as baby's bottoms:

When the two meet and things go well...English romance features more touch all over the body but 恋愛 brings up many images of just hands touching. PDA is not ok in Japan. 

Make a mistake? English seems to make light of it and emphasize correction/doing over. In Japanese, the exact opposite "success" also comes up but...

Now this gets personal, haha. When we got engaged I never once considered a Japanese wedding dress. There's little to choose from apart from "big ball gown with alllll the textures! + a GIANT RIBBON!!!1!" and most results had all the accessories like gloves, hat, tiara, jewelry etc. No modern sleek silhouettes. Really overdone in my opinion but that's how it is here!

"Family" and 家族 was really interesting. For once the first English result wasn't white people. In general the results showed nuclear families with up to four kids. 家族 gives you less kids (in the first page of results no images showed more than two) and a whole lot more Grandma and Grandpa.

Now a current favorite topic of mine, work! Job search vs. 就職活動。the employment system is probably the most bizarre and culture-shock inducing part of life here for me.

"Corrupt company" connects more to an unrelated proverb and overseas companies than does ブラック企業、the results of which were just frightening!

Let's end with a day off! Japanese 休日 focuses on release, freedom and a lot more laying in bed. Apparently English speakers need a tropical location to make a proper holiday. 

So that's one of the nerdy things I do with my free time. Try it and draw your own conclusions!


  1. I love thisss. You hooked me in with "thats riiight" as soon as I saw breakfast, and it really is surprising to see the difference in simple words and how they are portrayed here.

    1. Yup and you know, it's kind of idealistic, like my breakfast never looks like the "breakfast" results and not many Japanese eat breakfast like their results either, but it is fun to see what the ideal is!


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