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Song Translating and Mistranslating

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This tutorial is written by a native Japanese speaker.

About romaji mistransliteration and unrecommended romaji transliteration sites, see here.

日本語での概要はこちら

Many volunteer translators in the Vocaloid fandom are active on YouTube and other sites. Since the release of Hatsune Miku, thousands of Japanese Vocaloid songs have been created and the songs have caught many music lovers around the world. Many fans, however, do not understand Japanese lyrics so translators are very much needed. Those translators have made a great contribution to the fandom, but not all of the translators are qualified enough. Unfortunately a lot of grave mistranslations which totally corrupt the original lyrics are going around.
Example.
Re_birthday by mothy/Akuno-P. You will be surprised at a disastrous result by a "translator" who doesn't understand Japanese.

Translating other people's words brings responsibilities. Responsibilities both to the authors and to listenres or readers. Making mistakes is not an embarrassing thing, and it is practically impossible to make a "perfect" translation. A beautiful translation is not faithful and a faithful translation is not beautiful. Yet "Practice makes perfect" is NOT true if you own responsibilities as a translator. If you spread wrong stories about songs by your mistranslations, how can you correct the widespread misconceptions? "Tell me if you find mistakes" doesn't work either. If your translations constantly need to be checked, you should concentrate on your Japanese lessons more than translating songs. If you call yourself translator, you have the ability to read Japanese newspapers and magazines without the help of dictionary and the ability to write Japanese sentences fluently.

Index
  • Damesukekun Native Japanese speaker who also speaks English

Understanding Language

Japanese language is one of the most difficult languages for westerners. Its words, word order, grammatical rules and sentence structure are foreign to those who speak Indo-European languages. U.S. Department of State says an American needs about 4,000 hours of study for basic Japanese skill whereas Ministry of Education and Science of Japan says a Japanese needs about 2,000 hours for basic English skill. (Compare the hours. Japanese people surely have disadvantage of learning English, but westerners spend twice as much effort to learn Japanese as Japanese do to learn English.) When you start Japanese lessons, you will soon face a set of complicated conjugations, inflections and particles. A slightest misreading can easily lead to a grave misinterpretation - misreading of subjects and objects, positive and negative, active and passive, modifiers and modifiees, present and past and so on. (This causes a problem in English, too. Compere there were few residents who escaped from the hurricane and there were few residents, (comma) who escaped from the hurricane. But the cases are more frequent and much serious in Japanese.) Japanese writing system without interword spaces makes reading very tricky. Most Kanji characters have several different meanings in Japanese.

Self-learning

Learning Japanese through animes or J-pop songs is an awkward idea. It is compared to learning English through Disney or Hollywood films. In addition if you teach yourself with famous Japanese textbooks, you will achieve only basic conversation skills. If you are going to learn the language, you should take a Japanese class with a qualified teacher. Yet some months of studying basic words, expressions, conjugations and particles is not sufficient to grasp the whole framework of Japanese grammer. You need to memorize five conjugation patterns for verbs, two inflection patterns for i-type adjectives (形容詞) and na-type adjectives (形容動詞) and more than 200 particles, many of which have irregular inflections. Japanese idioms and metaphors are completely different from those of English.

Sentence Structure

Japanese is a topic-prominent language. Topics and predicates are emphasized more than subjects and objects.
Here is an example. "朝食はパンを食べた。"

  •      朝食        は       パン        を      食べ>食べる       た。
  • Breakfast - topic - bread - object    -    eat    -    perfective.

English translation:

  • I ate bread for breakfast.


The subject I is omitted in the original Japanese sentence. Native Japanese speakers often omit subjects and objects when topics and predicates are apparent, for subjects and objects are less important than topics and predicates in their language. In this case the topic is breakfast and the predicate is ate. But this word omitting is very much confusing to non-natives. You need to read the context carefully to tell the topic and predicate in order to restore omitted subjects and objects. This is a very difficult task for English speakers, for English always requires subjects and objects except for broken comments or conversations.

Understanding Culture

Translating never means automatic word converting. A translator needs the integral knowledge of the souce language and the culture behind it. Even people who speak the same language but have different backgrounds suffer communication gap. Think about this case. First floor. Americans say "second floor" when they see British walk on the "first floor" in a building. This example shows your thinking pattern does not always work correctly when you place yourself in a culture which is new to you.
Here is an overview about Japanese way of thinking and view of life.

Way of Thinking

Unlike English thinking, Japanese thinking is not linear. Japanese and other East-Asian language speakers' thinking may be likened to drawing a large circle to the center of a topic. In other words, how they think is like watching a multiple viewpoint drama. Japanese people often describe one thing from various standpoints. Even third person viewpoints may represent first or second person viewpoints. Thus "this man" or "that woman" sometimes means "I" or "you" in Japanese songs and literature.

View of Life

Japanese culture has developed under the influence of Shintoism (神道), Mahayana Buddhism (大乗仏教) and Confucianism (儒教). These three religions have different doctrines, but they all emphasize the harmony between you and the society you belong to and "great nature", the cradle of all living things. If you live in Japan you will be expected to act in accordance with what others expect to you "to maintain the harmony of society". This belief leads Japanese people, especially women, to be modester, humbler and shier than western people. In many Vocaloid songs Japanese girls show much more modesty and shyness than western girls.

Another important point to mention. Looking into inner self is a common Japanese reaction when facing difficulties. Zen class Buddhism (禅宗), from which traditional Japanese arts such as Ikebana (生け花, flower arrangement) or Sadou (茶道, Japanese tea ceremony) were inspired, says enlightment and the truth can be found by looking into your inner self through Zen-mondou (禅問答, profound riddles) and Zazen (座禅, Zen meditation). This view of life strongly connected with self reflection makes a sharp contrast to Christianity, in which you find your reason of existence and the truth through the interaction with your family, friends and the God. In fact the concept of the God as the sole creator is totally absent in the Shintoism, Buddhism and Confusianism teachings.

When restoring omitted subjects and objects, you need to read the context in line with this Japanese way of thinking. Usually I is the omitted subject unless other words are suggested by the context. Here is an example. "見上げた空は青かった。"

  • 見上げ>見上げる         た        空      は    青かっ>青い      た。
  •   Look up    -     perfective - sky - topic   -   blue   -   perfective

Most beginners mistakenly interpret this sentence as "When you looked up into the sky, it was blue." English speakers say "you" or "they" when mentioning common topics, but Japanese speakers mean in most cases

  • When I looked up into the sky, it was blue.

Or more accurately

  • The sky I looked up into was blue. > The sky in my eyes was so blue. ("so" is added to convey the feeling.)

The omitted subject, of course, varies depending on the context. Still you should know this Japanese inner-self thinking to restore omitted subjects and objects in the right way.

For further study, see Minue622's case study on Yukiguni by Kawabata Yasunari.
Lang-8
Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese Forum

Machine Translating

Japanese and English practically share nothing except for adopted words and idioms. Unlike translating languages stemmed from the same origin such as German-English or French-English, machine translators cannot correctly translate Japanese from/to English. Machines often misinterpret conjugations, inflections, particles, positive and negative and other grammatical rules.
Here are examples.

  • A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.

Google translation:

  • 尻尾猫を運ぶ男は他の方法で学ぶことができる何かを学習します。(This sentence is very awkward and weird to native Japanese speakers.)

Result - misreading of positive and negative.

  • A male person who carries a tail-cat learns something that can be learned in (some) other ways.

Correct translation in natural Japanese expression.

  • 猫の尻尾をつかんで運べば、他では得られない教訓を学ぶだろう。 Or in more natural expression 何事もやってみないと、学ぶことはできない。


Even a simplest sentence may be gravely mistranslated.

  • The night is young.

Google translation:

  • 夜は若いです。(This sentence also hardly makes sense to native Japanese speakers.)

Result - negligence of the idiom.

  • The night is in young age.

Correct translation in natural Japanese expression.

  • 夜はまだこれからだ。

Retranslating from English to Other Languages

Retranslating or second-hand translating should be avoided. A best translation cannot fully convey the feeling behind the original work. In addition, no translation is free from the translator's personal interpretations. A translator's Japanese and English vocabularies, knowledge of Japanese language, culture and history, life experience and other things set the limit on the quality of translations he/she makes. Furthermore you may have the chance to refer to grave mistranslations unless you have the skill to read the original Japanese lyrics to tell good translations and bad translations. A second-hand translator doesn't know Japanese at all, and the quality of his/her translations is very doubtful.

Common Mistakes

Here are typical mistranslations beginners often make.

  • Misreading of sentence structure
    • The word order in Japananese is free. Objects can be placed before subjects. The only rule is that verbs and predicative adjectives should be placed at the end of the sentence, but this is often broken in poetic lyrics with word inversion.
  • Misreading of omitted subjects and objects.
    • In English songs each line usually makes each sentence. In Japanese songs, however, two or more lines often make a sentence cluster. Beginners often cut a sentence cluster into several phrases by lines. This misreading leads to the grave misreading of omitted subjects and objects.
    • A line with high-intonation ending makes a sentence cluster with the following line(s), and a line with low-intonation ending suggests the end of the sentence cluster. You need to listen to speech intonation carefully.
    • Japanese multiple-viewpoint thinking. As mentioned above, "this man" or "that woman" sometimes means "I" or "you" in Japanese songs and literature.
    • Another Japanese way of thinking - self-reflection. Again, Japanese people usually mean "I" rather than "you" when talking about common events.
  • Misreading of transitive verbs and intransitive verbs.
    • Japanese transitive verbs do not necessarily need objects. More accurately, transitive verbs often appear with omitted object words.
  • Misreading of main verbs and subsidiary verbs.
  • Misreading of 連体形 (attributive form). 連体形 works like the English participial phrase or relative clause.
    • The Japanese verb in attributive form is exactly in the same form as 終止形 (terminate form). This is an example. The attributive phrase is marked red.
      青い空に浮かぶ白い雲がきれいだ。
      The white cloud(s) floating in the blue sky is/are beautiful.
      The word-to-word translation is In-the-blue-sky-floating white cloud(s) is/are beautiful. Many beginners often confuse attributive form with terminate form and misread the sentence as The blue sky is floating. The white cloud(s) is/are beautiful. - phrase cutting. This mistake also leads to grave misinterpriting of omitted subjects and objects.
  • Misreading of the particle は. は usually works as a topic marker, but sometimes works as an adverbial marker.
  • Misreading of the particle が. が works either as a subject marker or as an object marker. The common misconception is が always works as a subject marker.
  • Confusing the adverbial particles では, とは, には and のは with the subject particle は.
  • Interjuctions あの, あのう, あのぅ, ねえ or ねぇ. Many translator always interpret these words as "hey". However, "please", "dear" or "look/see" is more suitable in cases when a girl expresses shy requests in lyrics. Again, with their cultural background Japanese girls often show more shyness than western girls.

Listings

This translators list is subject to change without notice. Please refer to the latest version.
日本語のリストはこちら。(リストは随時更新されます)

Recommended Translators

Here are the translators who are free from mistakes beginners often make. Please note Vocaloid Wiki does not count their translations as "official" ones. A best translator makes a mistake. Still their translations will be helpful for fans who do not understand Japanese.

@, A-F

カエルネコ
aka. Skullsandroses2011
400machine1
AmeSubs The translations as of mid-2012 are recommended. The translations before mid-2012 have some mistakes yet acceptable enough.
Arklung
BambooXZX The translations as of mid-2014 are recommended. The translations before mid-2014 have some mistakes yet acceptable enough.
Blacksaingrain Native Japanese speaker. Educated in Britain. Has the full command of both Japanese and English.
Bluepenguin
Wordpress
Anime Lyrics
Lyrics Translate
Achieved Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level N2. Has studied in Japan.

Please note the translations by other contributors on Anime Lyrics and Lyrics Translate have many mistakes and are NOT recommended.
Chocoyouchuu
Coleena Wu Joint channel with LaXynd, native Japanese speaker.
Creepy and Evil Translations
YouTube Livejournal
aka. Narumo
Descentsubs Has studied in Japan.
Dropkick Subs
EtoCetera
Felicia Indriani Bunawan
Forgetfulsubs The translations as of mid-2015 are recommended. The translations before mid-2015 have some misreading of omitted subjects and objects and are NOT recommended.
FreedomT1 Subs Achieved Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level N2. Has studied in Japan.
Fuwafuwafluffy

G-L

Ghost Subs
HarryMacDowel
Hazuki no Yume
YouTube Tumblr Wordpress
Achieved Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level N1. Obtained M.A. and M.Ph. in Japanese literature.
Hinamawari
from Anime Lyrics
Another site of Hazuki no Yume.

Please note the translations by other contributors on Anime Lyrics have many mistakes and are NOT recommended.
Hokorichan Achieved Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level N1.
Kanannon
Kazabana
Kirandra
Len's Lyrics Operated by MusicalRaichu.
Lygerzero0zero

M-S

MeikoHonma
Miranda Fry
Moetron - Subs Collaborative group of American, British and Japanese.
Motokokusanagi Please note Motoko sometimes copies other people's mistranslations and posts them on her website Vocalochu without research. Be careful about using translations posted on Vocalochu which were translated by someone but Motoko.
Mouikkou
MusicalRaichu
YouTube Vocaloid Lyrics Wiki Userpage
MyMelancholicDolls
NegiMiku
OccasionalSubs
Otomo1983
PeanutSub
Pnstr
Puroresuman1
Saki Hana
Scezaria The translations are accurate, but he/she illegally uploads copyrighted anime songs.
SheashArrow
ShugoShadow The translations are accurate, but he/she illegally uploads copyrighted anime songs.
Sonikku10
Sunny Subs The translations are accurate, but he/she illegally uploads copyrighted Vocaloid songs.

T-Z

Terracannon876
TheNicoloid
TsunaguSubs
Vocaloid English & Romaji Lyrics Operated by Mizunoya, native Japanese speaker who was educated in Britain.
Vocaloids' English & Romaji Lyrics Operated by Blacksaingrain, native Japanese speaker who was educated in Britain.
Zcatcracker

Neutral Translators

Here are translators who make some mistakes, but their mistakes are not so grave to change the points of original lyrics.

@,A-F

2bricacity
YouTube
BlogspotTumblr
Sometimes misreads words and omitted subjects and objects. Illegally uploads copyrighted Vocaloid songs. Illegally raises donations for his translations without permission of authors.
A Bunny's Translations The translations as of early-2016 are acceptable, yet she sometimes misreads words.
Achamo
from Anime Lyrics
Sometimes negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.

Please note the translations by other contributors on Anime Lyrics have many mistakes and are NOT recommended.
AdhorribleSubs Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects.
AkahaneSubs Native German speaker. Sometimes misreads positive/negative phrases, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations. Sometimes makes wording and grammatical mistakes.
Altamugs Operated by Psychiet. Sometimes cuts phrases and misreads omitted subjects and objects.
Alvin Paul Malinis Sometimes negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations. Sometimes makes wording and grammatical mistakes.
Anime Freak Sometimes misreads attributive form.
Animeyay
from Anime Lyrics
Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.

Please note the translations by other contributors on Anime Lyrics have many mistakes and are NOT recommended.
Annatsukiya Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects.
Apparentlyimapsycho Sometimes misreads active and passive.
ArtemisA
from Anime Lyrics
Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.

Please note the translations by other contributors on Anime Lyrics have many mistakes and are NOT recommended.
BerrySubs The translations as of late-2012 are acceptable, yet she sometimes misreads attributive form and omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations. In addition she often misinterprets that all katakana words are emphasized words and uses capital letters in her romaji and English translations for those words in a wrong way.

She uploaded subbed videos on her YouTube channel before, but those old translations had many mistakes beginners often make and thus are NOT acceptable. The channel was closed but unfortunately the mistranslations are still going around on YouTube.
Cephalopodicious
YouTube Tumblr
The translations as of late-2014 are acceptable, yet he/she sometimes misreads words and omitted subjects and objects. The translations before late-2014 have grave misreading of omitted subjects and objects and are NOT recommended.
Commisama Sometimes misreads words, omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Cosmic Aria Sometimes misreads words, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
CySubs Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Damesuke Native Japanese speaker. The translations are almost accurate, but he sometimes makes wording and grammatical mistakes.
Damianne Violet
aka. Thecoconutter
Sometimes cuts phrases, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Deadbullz Native Japanese speaker. The translations are almost accurate, but he/she sometimes makes wording mistakes.
EvilsKingdom2008 Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects and transitive/intransitive verbs.
FireflyJar Sometimes misreads positive/negative phrases, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
FiRez Sometimes misreads words, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
FuwaFuwa Native Spanish speaker. The translations are almost accurate, but he/she sometimes makes wording and grammatical mistakes.

G-L

Good Bye
aka. Lucia Malpense
Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with her own wrong interpretations.
Googoo888 Native Japanese speaker. The translations are almost accurate, but he/she sometimes makes wording and grammatical mistakes.
Hakei1211
formerly known as t12111

Native Korean speaker. Uses Jp-Kr machine translators to make Kr-En second-hand translations. Sometimes makes wording and grammatical mistakes.

Hakei was formerly known as t12111. The translations under this name have many mistakes and are NOT acceptable. The YouTube channel as t12111 was closed, but unfortunatelly the old mistranslations are still going around in the fandom.

Hakuu Enka Sometimes misreads words, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
iiVocaloiD Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects and transitive/intransitive verbs.
Ikuy398 Native Japanese speaker. The translations are almost accurate, but he/she sometimes makes wording and grammatical mistakes.
Kashi Sensei Sometimes negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
KataGatar Native Japanese speaker. The translations are almost accurate, but he sometimes makes wording and grammatical mistakes.
Kayio Native Vietnamese speaker. The translations are almost accurate, but he/she sometimes makes wording and grammatical mistakes.
Kbys32 Native Japanese speaker. The translations are almost accurate, but he/she sometimes makes wording and grammatical mistakes.
Kurayami Yoru Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Luckycloverz94 Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Lyricsub*°+* The translations as of mid-2014 are acceptable, yet she sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects.

M-S

Matchakame Sometimes negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
MauuChu Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Miya586 Native Japanese speaker. The translations are almost accurate, but he/she sometimes makes wording and grammatical mistakes.
MusicalShape The translations are proofread and corrected by Hokorichan, a recommended translator. Thus they are in effect of Hokorichan's translations.
Nayutalien Sometimes cuts phrases and misreads omitted subjects and objects.
Neinteen Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects.
Niji
YouTube Tumblr FC2 Blog
Sometimes misreads words and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Nori46 Native Japanese speaker. The translations are almost accurate, but he/she sometimes makes wording and grammatical mistakes.
NovaBee Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Ongaku Translations Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Opticalpopcorn Sometimes cuts phrases, misreads omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Orihime ♥ Hikoboshi Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
PandaKittenhybrid Sometimes cuts phrases and misreads particles.
Pricechecktranslations Sometimes misreads words and omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Psychiet
aka. Altamugs
Sometimes cuts phrases and misreads omitted subjects and objects.
Ryouru Native Japanese speaker. He makes wording and grammatical mistakes.
Silvernightpuma The translations are almost accurate, but he/she sometimes makes wording and grammatical mistakes.
Soundares Native Japanese speaker. He/She makes many wording and grammatical mistakes.

T-Z

Tosiaki Sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Vaffisuco The translations as of early-2013 are acceptable, yet he/she sometimes misreads omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Vervain subs
Formerly known as Tosiaki
Sometimes cuts phrases and misreads omitted subjects and objects.
Vgperson
YouTube VG's Translation Archives
The translations of the songs whose original uploads were after mid-2012 are acceptable, yet please note Vgperson sometimes adds her own interpretations to title and lyrics and corrupts them. In addition, she liked to have the first translations and had been doing rough and quick translating with some misreading of omitted subjects and objects until mid-2012. Her old YouTube account was terminated due to copyright violations and those mistranslated videos were removed, but she re-uploaded them to her new channel leaving the mistakes as they were.
Voca TranslationLab Sometimes misreads words, omitted subjects and objects and positive/negative phrases, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Vocaloid Subs
aka. Wingarea
The translations as of early-2012 are acceptable, yet he/she sometimes misreads words and omitted subjects and objects, and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.
Yukibeari
aka. ゆきくま
Sometimes misreads attributive form and negligent to Japanese idioms and metaphors with word-to-word translations.

Unrecommended Translators and Reprinters

Click here.

Unrecommended Translators (Other Languages)

Click here.

Please note we are waiting for more information on some languages

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