Ladies and Gentlemen, it is time to learn How to Google Translate Japanese in 2017!
So there you are watching some anime or reading some manga in Japanese and you come across a word or phrase that you don’t know. What do you do?
If you’re like me, you pause what you’re doing and hop on over to Google Translate to figure it out!
What I’ve found is that Google Translate is like a Swiss Army Knife with lots and lots of different tools that you can use for almost any situation. And yet, most people only use the knife part and completely ignore everything else!
This means that almost all of the awesome power of Google Translate is being wasted and left untapped by most people. Let’s change all that by taking a crash course in Google Translate for Japanese! After reading this article, it may just become your number one tool for learning a new language!
On Your Computer
Let’s start with the desktop version first, and then hop on over to mobile at the end.
Here’s how most people use Google Translate: they type something into the search bar like “how do you say fox in Japanese” and they get this result:
And then most people are done. BUT WAIT! There’s so much more that you can do!
This search result version of Google Translate is pretty basic. So you’re going to want to hop on over to the main website to get the full package.
Here’s what I love about the desktop version: click the Swap Languages button (↔) and you can start typing in Japanese! If you start typing in Japanese, but English letters comes out, then click on the Input Method button (あ) and you will be able to type in hiragana.
Then once you’ve typed up some words in hiragana ( and before you press enter to confirm) you can press the space bar to cycle through some kanji or katakana options, depending on what you want.
This is a quick way to write in Japanese if you’re posting on a blog or message board. Once you’ve written out the sentence you want, just copy and paste!
What else can you get from this full version of Google Translate? Click the Listen button (it looks like a speaker) to hear the pronunciation! But it sounds like one of those lady robots, so don’t get your hopes up too much. No kawaii girls here 🙁
You can also click on the Speech Input button (it looks like a microphone) to test out your own pronunciation of Japanese words. Hey pretty cool, huh?
And you can change the input method again to Hand write. This is perfect if you see a kanji who’s meaning you don’t know. Just can just draw it here, and presto! It appears!
This is a great way to practice kanji and kana stroke order if you’re into that kind of thing 🙂
Moving on, there is a synonym section that can be very useful when you are trying to expand your vocabulary:
And there is an alternate translations section that is super, SUPER helpful when you’re looking up new words! Here’s what I mean by that:
In this picture, I’m looking up the Japanese word for “to learn” and here is the result:
The top two results are manabu (学ぶ) and narau (習う) and it even shows the volume of usage for each one.
Now that I’ve got a few different ways for “to learn” I can check them both out to see which one is more appropriate for what I want.
As it turns out, manabu (学ぶ) has the connotation of “to come to know or understand something.” Whereas narau (習う) has the nuance of “to learn something from someone else”, like you would from a teacher at school.
Sound Perfect? It’s not…
Before continuing on to the mobile version (which is even cooler than desktop!) let me mention a few of the problems so that you’re aware of them.
Google Translate gets better every year, but it’s not perfect for Japanese… and it’s the Japanese language’s fault!
As I’m sure you know, the Japanese language is highly dependent on CONTEXT. In other words, a lot of things in conversation are omitted because they are either implied or they were stated earlier in the conversation and you’re expected to remember them.
This can cause problems when you try to translate an entire sentence, rather than just a single word. The Google translation might throw in a pronoun such as “I, he or she”, but it could be totally incorrect for the situation.
You’ll have to just mentally substitute the correction if you can. Google Translate doesn’t know that you were just talking about your dog’s sweater!
Another problem is when you just paste in a single kanji and it gives you the Chinese pronunciation! Of course, kanji are “Chinese characters” that the Japanese use in their own language along with hiragana. This problem occurs when you ONLY put in kanji.
You see, the first time you paste something into Google translate, it will actually GUESS which language you are using based on the information you just entered. If you only put in one or two kanji, it assumes you want Chinese, not Japanese.
Thankfully, this can be overridden by clicking on the language tab and specifically selecting Japanese. Sometimes you gotta’ tell Google what you want!
On Your Phone
Now for the fun part! Google Translate? There’s an app for that!!!
Download the app onto your phone and start using it on the go. Then once you’ve launched the app, download the “offline translation files” for Japanese so that you can still use it when you have little or no reception.
Now the app on your phone works almost exactly like the desktop version.
- You can type in words using a Japanese Keyboard
- you can copy Japanese somewhere else and then paste it in.
- You can click the squiggly line button and draw a kanji character with your finger.
You can TAKE A PICTURE!!!
You simply launch the app, click on the camera button, and then take a picture of the Japanese text. Or you can also upload a picture from your camera roll. The app will then scan the picture and put a box around all the different text that it finds.
Take your finger and highlight the Japanese text that you want translated, and Voilà! it appears at the top of the screen with the original text and a translation underneath. How cool is that?!
Now you don’t even have to type or draw the Japanese words to get the English translation. It’s as simple as snap, draw, and presto!
But fair warning, it doesn’t do so well with Japanese that is handwritten… Or maybe my writing sucks. Oh well ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It doesn’t get any better than that, right?
WRONG! It DOES get better!!!
Forget all that hard work of snapping a picture and using your finger to highlight words and all that other crap. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Google understands how busy you are, so they made it super, super, super, super, SUPER easy to do!
You read that right. I said “just point.”
Yes, this app can now translate Japanese INSTANTLY just by seeing in through your camera’s lens!
Now it’s not perfect by any means, but it is pretty fricken awesome! It a brand spankin’ new technology from Google, so give them a little more time to perfect it. But there’s no reason you can’t use it now!
How many times have you been reading a manga in Japanese and came across a word that you didn’t understand? You had to stop everything, whip out a dictionary, look up the kanji, try to understand it in context, and blah-dee-blah.
Now? You’re reading some Japanese manga, the main character says something you don’t know, just grab your phone (I know it’s right next to you) and point the camera at it. Boom! Instant translation!
What’s the catch?
This all sounds too good to be true, right? And it’s completely free for you to use, so what’s the secret? Well for starters, it’s not perfect. It actually was flashing between “to learn” and “the science” on me for that last picture.
And secondly, Google likes to track your data. You can opt out if that kind of thing makes you uncomfortable. But mainly, Google just wants people to use its translation software and allow them to see the data so that they can use it to improve their stuff.
I use Google Translate all the time for Japanese and I highly recommend you do the same.
But it’s YOUR choice. Whatever you’d like to do 🙂
Well, that’s all I got. I hope you enjoyed it and I will see you next time!
Did I leave anything out when it comes to Google Translate? What other awesome translation technologies do you know about? Let me know with a comment below!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: