Am I picking on English subtitles again? Yes. I am. Sorry. This time it’s to target something I haven’t really talked about. Accuracy. This hits English subtitles where it really hurts because even if you get over all the other negatives which I’ve discussed on here, if they teach you the wrong Japanese, you can’t be happy.
Subtitles suffer from multiple inherent issues that make them inaccurate:
1. Human fault
Before I even get into the uncontrollable aspects of inaccuracy, there is often plain and simple shoddy work. Depending on where the subtitles originate from, the original translator may have just done a bad job. They may have been in a hurry, overworked, an amateur, or just not up to the task.
2. Subtitle timing
When someone says something, the subtitle has to appear. Due to English not being the same length, the proper English can’t always fit in a timely fashion. If it’s too long (you can express more in Japanese in less words), it needs to appear in a shorter way.
3. Translator Style
Language can be translated in a lot of different ways. It’s not just the case of a りんご being an apple. There are so many words and phrases that can have variations, there is no right way. The translator’s style becomes an influence and how he feels about it. You don’t want to learn Japanese based on the style of a translator.
Japan is different. Unexpected right? There is so much out there that just doesn’t make sense to a non-Japanese audience. That’s why localization in video game translation is such a big deal. Some subtitles will add notes on the screen to try to explain a cultural item. Others will just choose the closest Western equivalent.
You like to laugh? Good. But what you are laughing at is often completely different than the original joke because it wouldn’t make sense to you otherwise. Jokes are often either based on word play or cultural references.
6. Untranslatable words
Japanese is king of the untranslatable word. And queen of the “well this is kind of close” word. You are sometimes lucky to just get close. And close is not good enough
Please let me keep my beloved subtitles
I’ve softened up and think there are 2 uses that can be forgiven. But only 2:
1. Motivation (which is something you can never get enough of sometimes).
2. Watch it with English subtitles the first time, and then put it on your immersion device afterwards.
Warning; if you excuse yourself for the above, make sure this is done extremely sparingly.
But subtitles are also good because…..
I’m not here to argue. Use them if you want. But you will be treading down a dangerous path by yourself and one you may never escape.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.