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スミスさんは日本語が出来ないから、日本へ行ったら誰か正しい通訳をしてくれる人が必要だろう

Book translation: since Mr. Smith doesn't speak Japanese, he will need someone in Japan who can do accurate interpreting for him.

My translation:

Because Mr. Smith doesn't speak Japanese, when he goes to Japan, he'll need somebody who can do accurate interpreting for him.

My parsing:

日本へ行ったら | tara clause

誰か正しい通訳をしてくれる人が必要だろう | main clause

The subject of the tara-clause must be Smith because 誰か is mentioned afterwards.

3 Answers 3

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As Eddie Kal says, your translation is correct and the one in the book may have the adverbial phrase “in Japan” in a less-than-ideal position.

However, “when he goes to Japan” has its own weakness as it could also be understood as meaning 日本へ行く時. The Japanese sentence, with たら, is saying Mr. Smith will need an interpreter when he has completed the action of 日本へ行く, not on his way. So, he is already in Japan when the event of the main clause happens. A translation with “(when he is) in Japan” is unambiguous in this respect.

I don’t know how to accurately translate 日本へ行ったら using the verb “to go.”

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Your translation is of course correct. The issue here is the translation given in the book you are reading appears to be done by non-native speakers of English. For my money, the book's author(s) is/are likely (a) native Japanese speaker(s).

What happens here is a misplaced locative adverbial phrase in the process of translating that sentence. Conceivably, the author(s) meant to say it like this, with the adverbial "in Japan" modifying Smith rather than someone:

[he will need someone] (when he is) in Japan

So if we want to hew close to the original translation, we can phrase the clause better:

Since Mr. Smith doesn't speak Japanese, when in Japan he will need someone who can translate for him accurately.

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  • Upvoted, but could this also be the translator shortening "he will need someone (while he is) in Japan" to make it less wordy. Since they are speaking of interpreting rather than translating, I would immediately understand (or strongly assume) that he would also be present in Japan. I have less experience with translated books, but in live media there is a constant need to balance length of translations relative to the original versus conveying the important aspects of the meaning. Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 0:09
  • @ShinBikkuriman I agree. In conversation I doubt I'd even notice.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 0:15
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It depends on the context. The reason is because 〜たら does not translate directly to English; it sometimes takes the meaning "if" and sometimes takes the meaning "when".

Without context, simply reading the sentence as stated, it is assumed that Mr. Smith is not in Japan, nor is he planning to go to Japan. Given that Mr. Smith is neither in Japan nor going to Japan, there is no context as to why Mr. Smith needs a Japanese translator at all. Therefore, 〜たら would take the meaning of "if", and the translation would be "Since Mr. Smith doesn't speak Japanese, he will need someone to do accurate translation for him if he goes to Japan", which is close to your translation.

Now, add to that the context that it is highly likely that Mr. Smith will someday go to Japan for a business meeting. This changes the meaning of the sentence. In this case, 〜たら takes the meaning of "when", since it is determined that Mr. Smith is indeed likely going to Japan (although perhaps at some indeterminate point in the future). In this case, since Mr. Smith will be in Japan, and he will have a need to use Japanese while in Japan (in a business meeting with a Japanese person), the translation changes to "Since Mr. Smith doesn't speak Japanese, he will need someone in Japan to do accurate translation for him (when he goes there for his business meeting)".

So, depending on context, both translations can be correct. Of course, in examples from Japanese-learner textbooks, every non-Japanese person is always planning imminent business trips to Japan, which is why they chose the latter case to use, without context; the context is implied since it's a Japanese-learner textbook (I say this tongue-in-cheek, but it's also pretty close to true).

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    Without context, it is assumed that Mr. Smith is not in Japan and he is planning to go to Japan. You would use なら, not たら, in your first scenario.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 21:24
  • You're right, I didn't explain myself clearly. I don't actually know how to explain this, so here's my best explanation although it's likely to be not good: なら is the logical "if", meaning the speaker has no knowledge or intention of the thing to actually happen. For example, 田中さんからの電話が来るなら、私は出られないと言ってください (Mr. Tanaka may or may not call, but if he does, tell him I'm not available). たら is used when the speaker has some expectation that the thing will happen but has no knowledge of when; if you swap なら for たら in the above sentence, the implication is that Mr. Tanaka is expected to call.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 21:31
  • In OP's case, the expectation is that Mr. Smith will someday go to Japan, but in OP's translation that could happen whenever or however, whereas in the textbook's case it is expected to happen imminently and preparations will need to be made (as is commonly the case in Japanese textbooks; everyone is going to Japan always, and usually on business). In both cases you can use the same verbiage, but the implication is different depending on context.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 21:33
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    田中さんからの電話が来るなら doesn't mean what you seem to think it does.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 21:42
  • Hm? What am I missing?
    – Ertai87
    Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 22:07

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