Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
English-Speaking Elite (How To)
July 19, 2010 - By: - In: In the News / Awards - 19 comments

Tak Fujii made his name on the Internet last month with an incomprehensibly bad English-language presentation at Konami’s E3 press conference.

Tak is a manager and producer in Konami, and has previously worked as an audio director and specialized in localizing games in different languages. One of us. Not sure if I’ve even met him or not.

This is a follow-up on my post about how growing global English fluency means that interpreters are no longer required by many of my clients.

Right now, because we are working on presentation issues for one such client, Tak’s career-making moment struck a chord when I watched it on Wimp a few days ago. Plus, it seemed like another chance for Translation Guy to pig-pile on an internet meme gone viral for my own selfish promotional interests.

So, for the usual set of mixed motives, I sent it off the YouTube link to Diane Boardman, my accent mitigation expert. Diane coaches our clients who need to present in a second language. Since we can’t show you a real one, I asked her to do Tak:

“Subject: Tak Fujii, Producer, Konami Digital Entertainment

“This gentleman has speech sound (phoneme), stress and grammar difficulties, making his presentation overall very difficult to understand….

“I ran this by a native Japanese speaker (bilingual English/Japanese) and she had a problem understanding him!

“Some typical difficulties/differences are:  the substitution of ‘s’ (phonetically written as /s/) for the voiceless (no laryngeal vibration) ‘th’ phoneme.

— ‘thirty’ sounds like ‘sirty’ (when the /r/ is pronounced at all)

— substitution of the voiced /z/ for the voiced ‘th’ as in the pronunciation of ‘with’ as ‘wiz’

–/r/ and / l / difficulties – substituting one for the other

“Vowel difficulties: Example: the use of /a/ (as in ‘father’) for /^/ as in ‘but’

“Some dialogue that was just plain incomprehensible except for a few words:

“(1) Fast. Online cope more you compete with online leaderbles…

“(2) Grammar/Phoneme: ‘Please check out our cope mode in our after the press conference is available.’

“(3) Various phonemic substitutions: ‘Lub you grace’ (Is this supposed to be ‘Love you guys’??)

“All in all, his rate was very fast except when he wanted to emphasize numbers or exclaim ‘wow’ or say ‘extreme.’  This coupled with his frequent use of phonemic substitutions, additions of ‘uh’ after words with consonant endings (at times), inappropriate stress patterns, and grammatical issues, would probably result in making comprehension by his audience difficult, stressful and tiring.  This is not something you want when you’re trying to sell your product.”

If you watch the video, it’s pretty clear that the audience was clueless. Either that or someone had slipped Thorazine in the water. We’ll know for sure when we get back the lab results. But let’s assume for the time being that no one knew what he was talking about. So, communication fail? Yes? Or maybe not so fast.

You gotta love Tak. For me, as soon as I see a guy in dreadlocks, I figure we have to have something in common (both Bob Marley fans). If we had given Tak an interpreter (not that anyone asked), people would have understood exactly what he meant. But could our very best interpreter help Tak communicate his enthusiasm, passion and high spirits to a stick-in-the-mud audience, or would the interpreter-presenter dynamic just have squeezed out all the good juice in his presentation?

The next guy on this reel is Naoki Maeda, whose English is even worse. He sounds like he’s following a phonetic script of a teleprompter.  The Konami PR guys paired him with Tom Magaro (TK), who is no interpreter, but essentially repeated everything that Naoki said, so that people could understand him. It worked, I thought.

In fact, interpreters would have been a problem. When does anything with interpreters go viral anyway?

My father’s personal motto was “patience, persistence, and practice.” The way he said it, I always thought it had something to do with sex, but if you look at the rapidly changing manners of good communication on the Web, my Dad’s old school virtues don’t cut the social media mustard. Gotta keep the juice flowing, since something better is only a click away. I’m afraid that multilingual, just for timing issues alone, sucks the energy out of a virtual room. Bad English is an improvement. Tak’s awful English has transformed him into a global sensation.

I close with some famous quotations:
“One million troops”
*whisper* “EXTREEEEEME”
“You’ll be sucked”

Thanks to Diane Boardman for her help on this post.

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