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  • Christina Theodorakis

Translation: We Don't Know What That Really Means

The U.S. women's soccer team are World Cup champions many times over and had a 44-game winning streak going that started in January 2019.

For a team as successful and talented as the U.S. women's national team, it was a disappointing loss to Americans. I'm happy to give credit where it's deserved: the Swedish team played a much better game than the Americans, so good for them on their win.

Megan Rapinoe had this to say in response to the U.S. team's performance in their opening match:

“We got our asses kicked, didn’t we? I’m not going to lie: That part sucks. You go to a major tournament, that’s one of the best parts — just the buzz that you get. I’m not saying we should have fans. I don’t think we should, actually. It is what it is. I’m thankful we even have a tournament. It definitely changes the dynamic.”

As English speakers, we know "We got our asses kicked, didn't we?" means that we did so bad that it's like we just sat down and handed them the win. This English idiomatic expression is difficult to translate into any language, so you shouldn't. This is a time when localization is needed to get across what Megan Rapinoe was really saying with that idiom.

But that's not what the Japanese media did.

When Yahoo Japan reported what Megan Rapinoe said (cue palm to face), they translated it literally as:

"It feels like the Swedish team [physically] kicked our asses off our bodies, doesn't it?"

(Japanese: 私たちはお尻を蹴り飛ばされた感じよね?)

The quote from Megan about getting your ass kicked doesn't exist in Japanese, so literally translating this English idiom into Japanese is meaningless and only sounds like what I wrote in the paragraph above. Any idiom loses its meaning when it's directly translated into another language, and a good localization team knows this. You need to think about what is really being expressed by the words the person in the original language chose in order to accurately convey the meaning to the target audience. The Japanese translator missed the mark with this sentence.

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