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  • Christina Theodorakis

Let's Just Be Frank...

There's a baby in the car. Okay.

"What's wrong with that?" you may ask. The answer is: this is an example of the biggest difference between using a direct translation and a localization.

We found this bumper sticker in Japan. What the sticker obviously trying to say in English is "[There is a] baby in the car," or if you translate it directly into Japanese, it would still be "[There is a] baby in the car," which is the natural way to put Japanese.

The mistake here is that the creator of this bumper sticker took the risk of using a direct translation from Japanese to English without checking what the most natural way to write the message in English is. Localization takes all the possible meanings and nuances into account to produce the least-offensive, most-natural, and sometimes the most-concise version of English from the source language.

The other issue here is that bumper stickers are limited by space, so bumper sticker creators have to keep the English concise and often use a shortened version, which is typically written in note-taking style where you can leave out unimportant words such as "the." Non-native English speakers can struggle with this since they don't live in an environment where this style of writing is used. As a native English speaker, I grew up learning when you can and can't leave out words, but if you're not a native speaker or haven't been surrounded by English for very long, you would lack the frame of reference needed to write a message in a way that still gets your main idea across.

Even for such a short, simple message, using "the" adds a specific target object for the person who's reading it, so from their point of view, this message is confusing and unnatural. For something as simple as this sticker, a native English speaker will understand the message, but just because it's understandable doesn't mean that a potential client or partner will view you as professional and good at what you do. Even in the most innocent, simple messages such as this one, that's the impression you'll be giving to potential clients and partners.

If you don't know if what you translated is appropriate, that's where localization and cultural experts such as us can help you.

We’re not only professionals at writing and copywriting, but we're experts in the differences in culture and business communication between Japan and the West. If your company is trying to reach out to a Japanese audience, reach out to us at

Thanks for reading and keep following our blog for more explanations about mistranslations or miscommunication that we’ve seen around Japan!


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