How good is ChatGPT for translating English to Japanese? Can you rely on it instead of learning Japanese?

With the introduction of ChatGPT late last year, you may have discovered that it can perform translation tasks or write emails in other languages for you. So is it still even worth learning Japanese? We put ChatGPT to the test with the help of our bilingual (fluent in Japanese and English) staff member.

Let’s examine ChatGPT’s English to Japanese translation prowess using a sample text. The first two pieces of sample text are business oriented, something you may use in your working life. You may think you can use AI as a shortcut now, so let’s see how it performs.

Passage 1:

Japan’s economy is one of the most highly developed and market-oriented in the world. It is the third-largest by nominal GDP, with a strong emphasis on technology, machinery, and robotics. Despite facing significant challenges such as an aging population and a declining birth rate, the country remains a global powerhouse in various sectors including automotive and electronics.

The translation generated by ChatGPT:


The verdict?

According to our expert, the last sentence uses loanwords such as “セクター” and “パワーハウス”which are not very natural for Japanese people so a better translation would be  “自動車やエレクトロニクスなどさまざまな分野で世界の強豪国として君臨しています。”

Passage 2:

However, Japan also has a deeply entrenched issue with work culture, often referred to as ‘karōshi’, or death by overwork. This socio-economic issue not only impacts the overall productivity but also the mental health and wellbeing of its citizens. Despite this, the government and corporations are implementing measures to improve work-life balance and promote healthier work environments.

The translation generated by ChatGPT:


The verdict:

On a preliminary examination, the translation appears accurate, maintaining the original message and factual content. However, like any machine translation, there are potential pitfalls. One significant drawback is the lack of cultural nuance. For instance, the term ‘karōshi’ carries a heavy cultural and emotional weight in Japan that may not be fully encapsulated in a direct translation.

Furthermore, our expert says that she would change a few words, such as 労働文化の問題 should be 労働問題.  Also, それにもかかわらず is closer to the meaning of “nevertheless” so it may be better to translate “despite this” as “しかし”.

As we can see, for dry, corporate topics such as the economy, although the meaning is clear, the translations are not perfect.

Next, let’s examine how ChatGPT handles colloquial English, full of slang and local expressions. Consider the following sentence:

Passage 3:

She was so over the moon when her team won the championship. It was a real nail-biter, but they pulled it off in the end.

The translation generated by ChatGPT:


The verdict:

Again, the translation is accurate in a literal sense, but it may lose some of the nuanced emotional intensity present in the original English. “Over the moon” and “nail-biter” are idiomatic expressions that are not directly translatable. A human translator could use more culturally appropriate Japanese idioms to convey the same feelings of joy and suspense, a subtlety that AI might miss.

Our language expert states that “won the championship” should be translated as “優勝したとき” to sound more natural, while the last sentence sounds a little bit off too, so “最後には見事に優勝しました” would be a better translation to make the sentence sound more natural.

This is where human translators shine. They can provide context and natural sounding text, understand cultural subtleties, and interpret idioms and slang in a way that maintains the original sentiment and cultural context, a skill that AI models like ChatGPT are still developing. And even better than using a translator is being able to understand the text yourself, but of course that comes with hard study.

On the flip side, using ChatGPT for translation has its merits. It’s available 24/7, can process large volumes of text quickly, and is not subject to human error (although it can contain factual errors).

As AI language models like ChatGPT continue to evolve, they are becoming more adept at understanding and generating human-like text. While there are certainly areas where human translators hold an advantage, particularly when it comes to cultural nuance and idiomatic language, AI is certainly helpful for brainstorming and helping you form a structure to your written work. As a language school, we recommend that you could use AI to translate your emails, essays and so on from English into Japanese, but then rely on your own Japanese skill to check for accuracy and nuance. If you enrol into classes at Toranomon Language School, our teachers will be happy to check your text for you as well.

Our conclusion on translating English to Japanese using ChatGPT –

Accuracy – Pretty good, the point is conveyed well! If you’re sending a casual office email or something similar, go ahead and use AI!

Nuance and cultural points – Not terrible, but if you are sending a sensitive or important message, perhaps better to avoid using AI.

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