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  • Christina Theodorakis

What Language Are You Speaking?

“Pan Is Fun!” Do you understand what this sign is trying to say? If not, that’s because this marketing text is blending three different languages – Japanese, English, and French – and different marketing concepts without realizing it, so you could say that the issue in this marketing poster is trifold.

The first word that we see is “pan.” “Pan” as an English word has its own meaning, so looking at “Pan is fun” superficially, from an English speaker’s perspective, one would wonder why this poster is telling us that a frying pan is fun while showing various types of bread. Are they baking bread in frying pans? Who knows, right?

The astute observer would see the bread on this marketing poster and, being able to understand Japanese and romanized Japanese, see that the person who wrote this text was using the word パン (pan), meaning “bread” in Japanese.

Now here’s the problem: we have a marketing poster with a very confused audience.

Japanese, like most languages around the world, has borrowed words from other languages. The Japanese word “pan” is one such word. When the Japanese word for "bread," パン – a word that was borrowed from the French word for "bread" spelled “pain” – is written and pronounced phonetically in Latin letters, it becomes “pan.”

Many of these words from foreign origins have been in the Japanese language for over a century now, and Japanese people can’t tell the difference between which foreign word came from English and which from another European language. In essence, this marketing poster’s target audience can only be a person who understands what “pan” means in Japanese and “is fun” in English.

Personally, because I live in Japan and can understand Japanese, I can read this poster and comprehend that they confused the Japanese word for English even though it’s a French word spelled “pain,” which also doesn’t make sense in English.

In terms of the problems with localization, this issue exists because the word “pan” is originally a French word that was translated phonetically into Japanese, and from the Japanese was translated phonetically into English. Also, the whole concept for this marketing campaign is very Japanese, but they tried to use English for it even though it’s targeted to Japanese people.

Even though there is English on this poster, it can’t be used outside of Japan as it is. Even within Japan, the target audience will be confused if they have a higher understanding of English since they won’t interpret “pan” as “bread.”

Next, we have “is fun.” The Japanese word for “fun” embodies a somewhat different concept for Japanese people than the English word does, so non-Japanese people reading this poster will be wondering to themselves how bread can be fun. In English, we would express enjoyment in the act of baking or eating bread because it gives us pleasure, but unless you’re using bread as an active part in a game, it’s hard for bread to make life fun.

Lacking the understanding of how words will come across to a target audience in the country where you’re spending money on marketing campaigns is primarily why properly adapting marketing text and localizing it correctly is so important in successful international marketing.

This is where we at Globalize Consulting can come in to help. We’re not only professionals at Japanese->English and English->Japanese localization, we’re professional writers and experts in copywriting. If you’re interested in expanding your business or helping your failing business in Japan, contact us today.


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