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Never Rely on Google Translate

My coworkers know that I’m learning Japanese, so today one got a bit cute and ran a phrase through Google translate:  “I am ready whenever you are”.

It translated to this:


It translates back to something very similar, and one would never know that anything was wrong with this phrase.  And I don’t know enough Japanese to understand everything about what it translated, but I looked at it and said “that’s not right”.

See, it says, literally, “Whenever you are, I am ready”.  But that’s not what it means.  “Are”, in this case, is not a shortcut for “are ready”.  It’s the word いる (iru), which means, literally, “exist”.  So in Japanese, it means something more like “I am prepared, whenever you exist”.  I ran this by someone who is a little more advanced than I am just to be sure, and he agreed that the sentence was off.

So Google Translate produced a fairly accurate translation of an idiomatic phrase that meant nothing at all like what the idiomatic phrase actually means.

This is why you should never rely on Google Translate.  Sure, use it when you need to.  It will give you a rough idea of what a sentence means, and may even be useful for quick, everyday use.  But it is not to be trusted.  Sometimes – and if you don’t know the language, you don’t know when – it will spit something out that appears correct but is actually subtly very, very wrong.

There is, of course, one thing about that sentence that is not subtly wrong.  The use of “anata” (あなた).  There’s nothing subtle about that.  My coworker knows my name.  That is rude.  Of course, one must make allowances because… well… Google Translate.  But still.  It’s another pitfall that Google Translate cannot avoid.  It has no idea whether you’re talking to a stranger, and thus, cannot add the name.  And a non-native speaker would never know.

Know enough about Japanese to at least know when Google Translate has failed you.  I appear to know just about that much Japanese now.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Practice safe Japanese, folks.  And do not rely on Google Translate.

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