Word Wise: This Month’s Word Challenge

By Richard Medhurst

It’s pretty common for loanwords to change their meaning as they enter Japanese from English and these can present translation difficulties. Take チャレンジ, which is used quite differently in its verb form in Japanese, inspiring such errors by Japanese learners of English (and out-of-their depth translators) as “I want to challenge skiing.” In the case ofスキーをチャレンジしたいです, it would be better to say I want to “try” or “have a go” at skiing.

As used in the phrase 夢の実現にチャレンジする人を応援しています, the meaning is a little different, however. It targets achievement and so goes beyond mere trying; in these kinds of phrases it is possible to use some variation on “taking on the challenge” of doing something. Often this seems unnecessarily long-winded, though. I might instead talk about “people who are working to achieve their dreams,” or more indirectly “people who are determined to achieve their dreams.”

A common variation comes in チャレンジ精神, notably used by Honda and translated by the company as a “challenging spirit” or “spirit of challenge.” The latter sounds a little better than the former, but I’m not too keen on either. There are many more natural alternatives including “a love of challenges” or “a desire to take on challenges.” In a context where the focus is an appetite for the new, “spirit of discovery” or “spirit of adventure” may also work.

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