By Carol Hinz
Editorial Director, Millbrook Press
One of the Super Bowl commercials that caught my eye last week involved two rather wimpy-looking guys with cell phones facing two sumo wrestlers. The guys had to use their phones, which had internet connections, to figure out how to say “I surrender” in Japanese.One guy tried to look up the phrase by using a search engine, but he got a result meaning the exact opposite of “I surrender.” The other used a service that provides answers for a fee and got the correct answer. At the time, the commercial made me laugh, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it left out a lot of options.
The authors of our books are consummate researchers. Our text editors also do substantial research to fact-check each book we publish. I know that students regularly have to do research for school projects, and I hope that they recognize that there are far more options available to them than either plugging something into a search engine or paying for the right answer.
I did a little brainstorming and came up with the following ways to find out how to say “I surrender” in Japanese.
-Search for an online English-Japanese dictionary such as this one and look up the individual words in the phrase. This is a little tricky because someone who knows nothing about Japanese won’t know if you need to use a pronoun or how to conjugate the verb.
-Use a translation website, such as Yahoo! Babel Fish. I have a friend who teaches French and Spanish, and she has told me students have gotten some comically bad translations from sites like these, so it’s certainly not advisable to write an entire essay in English and then expect the program to provide an acceptable translation. However, it may be more accurate for a shorter phrase. The only challenge? When I tried this, it gave me a string of Japanese characters but didn’t tell my how to pronounce them!
-Since we know this particular phrase has been featured in a commercial, you could look it up on You Tube.
-Go to a library. The English-Japanese dictionaries are likely to be far more comprehensive, and they may even have a section that discusses verb conjugation.
-Call or e-mail the Japanese embassy. When I contact an organization as part of my fact-checking, they’re usually happy to help when I mention it’s for a children’s book.
-Contact a Japanese teacher or professor in your region.
-Contact a friend or relative who is Japanese. Sometimes it’s smart to use your personal connections to get a quick answer to a question.
I’m sure there are other methods I haven’t thought of to look up the answer. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comments!