Crafting Natural English from Japanese - Episode 10

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Welcome back to our series on creative J>E translation, where we translate the idea behind Japanese words, not merely the words themselves. If you’d like to go back to the first episode, click here. For the full episode list, click here.

Today our word is チャレンジ. But first:

A Note Before Continuing
The examples below come from actual projects that I have worked on for my customers, although I have modified the text to some degree in order to maintain confidentiality. Also, keep in mind that when it comes to translation, especially creative translation, there is usually more than one right answer. You may have different ideas for how to render these examples into English that could be just as valid or even better than mine. Much like writing, I’ve always thought of translation as an art, not a science. Of course, it also helps to have a good editor, so I’ve only selected examples from translations that were checked by a second pair of eyes.

Let’s get to it!

チャレンジ (charenji)

Overly common and wrong translation: (to) challenge
Suggested alternatives: Just rewrite so you communicate the original idea in correct English.

チャレンジ, borrowed from the English “challenge,” is very common in modern Japanese. The culture places a lot of emphasis on working hard and doing one’s best, as expressed by another frequently used word, 頑張る (ganbaru). チャレンジ fits into that thinking, but when it gets translated back into English poorly, the intended meaning becomes lost. Like this:


This is the result of a ham-handed attempt to directly express the suru verb チャレンジする (meaning “challenge” and “do,” respectively). However, this usually happens with advertising copy that is meant for Japanese eyes, not those of native English speakers, so it’s usually not a big deal. All it does is provide some amusement or mild befuddlement for foreign visitors and residents in Japan. If, though, your audience does include native English speakers, it’s important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to translating チャレンジ. Oftentimes, a good approach is to pair it with a verb such as:


The challenge we tackled was reducing the number of traffic accidents.

or “take on.”

We’re proud to take on this challenge as we attempt to better understand Saturn and the Solar System.

Here I’ve again used “take on,” but minus the word “challenge” because it would result in a clunky sentence.

She’s cheerful and takes on danger with a smile.

Another verb we can pair with “challenge” is “seek.”

We aren’t satisfied with the status quo. Instead, we seek new challenges.

This example about pole vault expresses チャレンジ with “attempt” as a verb.

Risk it and attempt the jump, or keep your current record? Strategy holds the key to victory.

And here I used the same word, but as a noun.

Our attempts to implement various ideas resulted in hot-selling products.

You can take a similar approach with リベンジ (ribenji), which comes from the English word “revenge.” You can get revenge, take revenge, exact revenge, but you cannot simply revenge.

Unlike “revenge,” however, “challenge” can be both a noun and a verb, like so:

I will challenge myself through various efforts to become even more of a success.

Now let’s examine some more creative ways to take on the challenge of チャレンジ.

The following sentence is about product development. In this context, “innovate” seems to express the idea of チャレンジ well.

This is the signature brand from a company that has innovated in product development to keep up with the times while maintaining tradition, ever since the business was founded in 1912.

In this example, “doing everything we can” represents the combined meaning of 一生懸命 and チャレンジしています. And just for fun, I decided to translate 難しい as “challenging.”

Rest assured that we are doing everything we can to solve this challenging problem.

Here I’ve reworded 直向きにチャレンジを続ける with the phrase in bold:

To achieve that goal, everyone has to remain firmly focused on the challenge at hand.

In this case, I’ve rewritten to turn チャレンジ into an adjective. This might seem like I’m taking an excessive liberty, but the idea is still communicated well, so it’s okay.

It can’t be complicated. It has to be simple, but on an impressively challenging scale to astound the viewers.

In this sentence, I could have used “challenges,” but it had already appeared in the previous sentence, so I went with a synonym.

We’re now devoting that time to other tasks, such as advertising strategies and issues affecting manufacturing processes.

Although I translated チャレンジ literally in the sentence below, I want to share it because I think it’s a good example of translating the idea rather than the individual words.

To reach the future, you must overcome challenges.

Here are three more:

Young employees will be at the center of the project as we try out new things without clinging to the past.

We want to venture into new businesses.

If you try your hand at a variety of things that may be outside your field of expertise, then you could have one of a diverse range of careers.

Here we have a piece of 和製英語, “challenge spirit,” that must be rephrased.

Will the new model carry on that spirit of determination?

Now we get to see where the idea behind “challenge spirit” comes from: チャレンジ精神.

Applying my passion, and the experience and knowledge I’ve gained, to working in this industry where I need a lot of motivation and a dauntless attitude, is new to me.

And here it is again!

Since our founding, the Group has always advocated an intrepid corporate spirit.

And of course, sometimes we can translate チャレンジ literally as a noun, but only if it’s not paired with する.

This was a first-of-its-kind challenge.

That is an enormous challenge, but our determination remains as great as ever.

If you’ve read this far, you should now be thoroughly equipped to intrepidly tackle the challenge of translating チャレンジ in English. Good luck!

For other episodes in the series “Crafting Natural English from Japanese,” click here.

Click here for the full archive of The Kyoto Linguist. You could also read the randomly selected article below.


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