Duolingo’s new campaign shares Japan’s funniest mistranslations

The language learning app’s Museum of Wonky English celebrates some of the country’s best examples of English gone awry

Many of us will be familiar with Duolingo’s quirky campaigns, which include an invitation to ‘Emilys everywhere’ to improve their French – referencing the protagonist of the hit Netflix show Emily in Paris – to a global proofread of foreign language tattoos that may not mean what their owners think they do.

For the app’s latest campaign, the Museum of Wonky English, the team joined forces with Tokyo-based creative agency UltraSuperNew to once again search high and low for language errors. The team sought out some of the funniest and most misleading examples of public signage found around Japan, each suffering from a bad case of mistranslation.

These have been gathered together and recreated in a new pop-up museum in Tokyo called the Museum of Wonky English (MOWE), which is based within the agency’s own gallery in Shibuya City. The MOWE presents 16 of the best finds as small installations, featuring the contextual elements that originally accompanied the words.

UltraSuperNew also produced a short one-minute film that captures the hilarity of these innocent mistakes. We watch as visitors to the museum contemplate the meanings of the mistranslations, trying to understand why they need to “urinate with precision and elegance” or refrain from “eating children and elderly”. One particularly funny (and truthful) installation shows a small notice in front of a coffee machine that reads, “When coffee is all gone. It’s over.”

Viewers are invited to share their own examples of mistranslations with the Duolingo Twitter account, earning the best ones an honoured place in the museum. As with the language learning app’s previous campaigns, this one strikes the balance just right, gently poking fun at the mistakes we all make when using another language, without making anyone feel foolish.