Always be mindful of what you write or let others write for you. You never know when it will be scrutinized by thousands upon thousands of Japanese people.

Living in Japan I often get asked to correct, tweak, or completely write out people’s emails, Facebook posts, or reports in English, and I always wonder if in doing so I’m actually doing them more harm than good.

Without a doubt I’m misrepresenting their actual language ability which could lead to future problems and whenever communication is done by proxy, we always run the risk of botched nuances and subtle but important differences.

One example, of how this kind of thing can go wrong went down on 3 June. Twitter user Surugi-kun came home to a puzzling scene: a bottle of wine standing on top of a folded piece of paper was waiting by the front door.

Image: Twitter/@surugi_kun

▼ “I came home and some wine was in front of my room, I carefully took out and looked at the paper it came with. It turned out to be the best thing!”

On the letter was a bilingual message from Surugi-kun’s new neighbor who recently moved to Japan from Australia. Adhering to local customs, he kindly presented gifts to his fellow tenants.

Image:  Twitter/@surugi_kun

Actually, he may have gone above and beyond as I have never given nor received a gift as nice as a bottle of wine (admittedly, I might have brought that karma on myself though). And while the gifts are supposed to be given along with a personal greeting, it seems everyone was willing to overlook that minor detail.

However, some Japanese Twitter users couldn’t overlook something peculiar about Benjamin’s note. The Japanese written in it is quite good. In fact, it was so good that people had a hard time believing either of Benjamin’s claims of not knowing Japanese or using Google Translate.

“There is no way that Japanese came from Google Translate.”
“Google would never translate ‘thank you’ as ‘yoroshiku.'”
“That Japanese is more fluent than the English.”
“This makes it even more suspicious that he didn’t show himself…”
“Maybe he used Excite Translate?”
“I bet you it’s just a Japanese guy who wanted to get the neighborhood all worked up.”

▼ “No doubt, this was not done by Google translate.”

Indeed as one comment pointed out, the letter closes with “yoroshiku onegaishimasu,” which does translate to a standard closing such as “thank you.” But Google Translate would never be able to identify it like that.

In addition, the last sentence of the note is crucial. First, it would be quite miraculous for an automatic program to translate one exclamation point (!) into two (!!), a punctuation favored in native Japanese typing. More importantly, the Japanese version of this line would translate back to English as “I hope this Google translation is coming out well!”

This is in contrast to Benjamin’s original sentiment of “I hope Google Translate works!” Which doesn’t include the key word “this” at all. It would seem our Aussie friend was not explicitly referencing his message but simply hoping Google Translate would get him through the beginning of his Japanese experience until his language skills improved.

And so we see the great Benjamin conspiracies of being a Japanese agent provocateur in the building are almost certainly incorrect and based on a slight mistranslation possibly done by one of Benjamin’s Japanese friends. However, the real lesson here is to avoid getting other people or machines to express yourself for you in another language.

You should always try it on your own as much as possible. And if you’re just beginning, limit the language you use to your own level with simple words and sentences. Sure you’ll sound like an infant with a concussion, but that’s an inevitable part of language learning. Much like a concussed child, you will get better with time and eventually be able to speak or write polite notes exactly the way you want to.

Source: Twitter/@surugi_kun via Hamusoku (Japanese)