I think this has been a long time coming. Foreign language tattoos are a big thing nowadays. Even I have one:

When I realised my tattoo and my hamsa match. :)

When I realised my tattoo and my hamsa match. 🙂

Most common, I find, are Chinese tattoos. A simply Google Translate search is usually enough to satisfy the prospective tattooee (hmm; doubt that word will catch on), and the resulting translation is simply copied, pasted (and printed, I guess) and taken to the tattooer.

But, guys… you can’t trust Google translate. It’s… awkward. Take this, for example. An e-mail I wrote to a teacher once:


I translate it this:

Sensei, I hate to disappoint you, so I thought I should let you know as soon as possible.

Not a perfect translation by any means, but it at least feels natural, like a native English-speaker. Now, see how Google Translate renders it:

I think that because I hate be disappointed teacher, that it became or should not be taught as soon as possible.

See the difference? Google Translate is a collection of algorithms and dictionaries and that cannot replace the human mind. I would not recommend using any online translator to determine what you plan to put permanently on your skin.

I recently met someone who has a Chinese tattoo. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was wrong. One of the Chinese characters used in the tattoo is one I know very well because of Japanese, and it was written wrong. One of the strokes was missing. You might think that’s not a big deal, but it’s like misspelling a word. Must be embarrassing to have someone point that out to you.

Apart from just being wrong, a tattoo could be… awkward, for want of a better word. And yes, I know, I used that word before. Another person I know has a Hebrew tattoo. This person used nikkud (markings to indicate vowel pronunciation) in it. In my opinion, what it did to the tattoo is not make it incorrect, but make it seem less native, and even gave it a clumsy feel. The person probably copied it from a Bible dictionary, which usually has niqqud, since most people who use those aren’t native (ancient) Hebrew speakers.

My recommendation: If you really want to get a foreign language tattoo, check with a native speaker, or two, or three. Get their feedback on the accuracy of the tattoo, and any cultural significance of it. It may save you a lot of embarrassment later, and ensure you have the right thing inked on your lovely canvas.

This entry was posted in 日本語, עברית and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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