Becoming A Japanese Translator: Fun Or Boring?

A lot of people consider becoming a translator the default route for a Japanese learner, without actually thinking about if it’s actually a job they might enjoy doing. You love Japanese. Translation is using that Japanese. So you should love translation. Unfortunately this isn’t the exact equation, and people who love Japanese don’t necessarily love translation. Some may even hate it.

Becoming A Japanese Translator - Fun Or Boring 2

So is translation fun or boring?

This is going to be personal, so let me give you the fun, the boring, and my own feeling on the matter.

Translation Fun

You:

  • Get to read Japanese (to me this is always fun in itself)
  • Expand your vocabulary, grammar, and knowledge into a wide range of fields
  • Don’t have to worry about spending time away from Japanese while at work, and not getting in enough time to continue getting better
  • See Japanese you would never normally see
  • Get paid to improve your Japanese
  • Become a much faster reader
  • Observe all styles of Japanese writing
  • Get practice in reading other people’s handwriting
  • Become a temporary expert on whatever you are translating
  • Gain a better appreciation of your own language, and how the two languages flow
  • Feel great when you create an excellent translation and everything goes smoothly (even the most technical translation can feel like a work of art)

Translation Boredom

You:

  • Have to use a J-E English dictionary often, and sometimes an E-E dictionary
  • Read through a lot of boring material (this varies based on what you are translating)
  • Stare at a screen and read all day, making your eyes tired
  • Are exhausted by the end of the day, as translating is mentally draining
  • Deal with frustration when things just won’t translate smoothly, and you find yourself going around in circles
  • Deal with bad Japanese sentence composition, in massive blocks of text, and have to turn that into good English writing
  • Have to deal with illegible handwriting
  • Have to sometimes deal with strange expectations that come from people that aren’t actually familiar with how translation or Japanese works
  • May be dealing with subjects you have no interest in
  • May be time pressured, leading you to have to balance time vs. quality, but being unsatisfied with either

My personal view?

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Translation has its up and downs. There are times I like doing it, and there are times I don’t. For me, I like doing it as something part-time, as it drains me a lot (mentally and physically). However, it has been a great experience, and the fact that I’m still doing it professionally after 5 years should say something. I think my biggest issue is that I’m madly in love with Japanese, but only mildly enjoy translating. It is a job after all.

You really won’t know till you try it.

Not to sound cliche, but you have to experience it first before judging it. And experiencing it as a volunteer translator isn’t enough. When you are a volunteer translator, translating your favorite things for fun, the experience is completely different. It’s when you become a professional that you start to see the real good and bad.

For those with translation experience: What do you find fun? What do you find boring? And what’s your personal view?


Part 12 ● 3 ● 4  5 6 ● 7 ● 8 ● 9 ● 1011



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Adam

Adam

Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.

Comments

Becoming A Japanese Translator: Fun Or Boring? — 17 Comments

  1. Hmm do you think it is manageable to do part time translating while doing university? That’s my plan because then 4 years would’ve passed and I should be ready.

    • I am not a translator, but I can answer that. It depends on on your priorities and situation. Will you be translating for fun or money? Will your translating job pay your college bills? Which one do you prioritize, you major or Japanese? These are honestly tough questions to answer, but you’ll find the answer in a few years. As for now, keep learning Japanese because you’d probably have a LOT less time for yourself in a college.

    • Yeah, I don’t see why not. It would be just like getting any other part-time job while in university, and if you have the skill and can get the experience, it’s definitely worth it.

  2. Thank you for writing this, and it sounds about how I expected it would be.

    Actually, in my own mini, very, very amateur translation attempts, that is almost exactly how I found it. Heee…except for the fact that I was translating interesting things…a friend’s blog diary while she was in Japan and an article in Swedish about my family. In both of those cases, I was working as hard as possible to make sure that the voice of the author sounded authentic, trying to make it as close to how they would sound if they were writing in English as I could. That was rather fun.

    When I did those projects, my feel for it was that it was not something I loved and had a passion for. I do not know that I would ever want to do it full time. I also do not think I like it enough to do it on a voluntary basis longer than it would take for me to build enough skill and get enough experience to be marketable.

    On the other hand, I did like it enough that it might possibly be a skill to build to bring in a little money on the side. I have started my little Precure translation project, but I am getting a little hung up on the technical part of working the subtitle editor. My thought was that this would be a good, low pressure test (once I get through the technical part) to see if this is something I want to go on with. My thought was if I found I did not like translating something fun that I enjoy, I may as well give up now. Sort of a negative test as it were.

    • Interestingly, I actually found that I dislike translating things that I find fun in themselves (stories, manga, etc. – I think because I find more creative translation too stressful and am always second guessing myself) but really like translating more technical things that I would not read for fun, so if you are thinking of doing some translation on the side I wouldn’t necessarily write it off if you don’t enjoy your translation project as much as you thought you might.

    • Jen brings up a good point about creative fun translation on the side not always being the best of tests (I agree with the stress more in the creative than the technical), and it definitely doesn’t do any harm to try the real thing and go from there. Who knows, you may surprise yourself.

    • Thank you both for the heads up regarding technical translation. That is helpful, and I will bear that in mind for the future. Heee…my Japanese is still in the “what do I want to be when I grow up” phase. I just started really reading “chapter books” this past December with the Novel Challenge. I think I will let my Japanese grow up a little more before sending her out to get a job.

      Actually, I think I am going to enjoy my little project. I did a little more on it last night. I was working on the opening theme song. ム・ズ・カ・シ・イ! This is without any attempt at all to match the rhythm…just trying to render the meaning as well as possible. Luckily, once it is done, it will remain the same for quite some time. But on the other side of the coin, it made me really appreciate the song, and just how cleverly it was written! Sadly, I think it is beyond my ability to bring the cleverness into the translation.

        • They do. They don’t pay well, but you can occasionally find very tiny translation jobs (lasting an hour or so) from individuals asking for simple things (like having an e-mail translated).

        • Oh interesting. Thank you. Even a little money would be useful (if nothing else to help fund my new Japanese book habit).

          Actually, I am thinking that whether or not I want to become a professional translator, translation practice is probably good for my Japanese at this point in my studies, to help with one of my specific weaknesses. My biggest weakness right now is with unpacking longer, more complicated sentences and with really understanding what is being said, rather than being satisfied with a fuzzy understanding.

          When I am reading novels and the like, I really do not take the time to do this…partially out of laziness, and partially because I want to get on with the story. If I am translating something for someone else, even if it is just for a friend or for my spouse, it forces me to ganbaru much more than I ordinarily would.

            • Thank you for the tip.

              I took their test, and I failed. I spent a week trying to power level, and I took it again. I did no better the second time. I could try a third time, but I think that there would be no point to it, at least not right now.

              やっぱりまだまだです。

              でも。。。。

              I am glad that I tried it. I learned a lot from the attempt, including all the reading I did about Gengo, and about translation in general. Some of the things I learned were:

              1. I think that this is what I want to do “when I grow up,” at least part-time.

              2. I really am studying and working as much as I can. In trying to power level, I added to my study tasks….but, it took time away from my immersion. Also, I almost buckled under the strain. When I failed the second time, I ended up crying…a lot. But…it was from relief, not disappointment. I really was pushing myself and my Japanese way, way too hard.

              3. My level is about what I thought it was. It is hard to really compare to the levels here because, as much as I can, I am building up as if I was a Japanese child rather than an adult learner. This route is much faster is some things, like immersion, and much slower in others, like kanji acquisition. My level really is at about 3rd grade…too young to get a job, even a paper route.

              But…from this, I decided to take the JLPT N2 this December. I think that it is a pretty reasonable goal to get my Japanese to 6th grade level in time to shift the focus to test preparation. Heee…I will be taking my Middle School Entrance Exams, as it were. While I know that I do not really *need* it to get a translator job (although, I am sure it can not hurt), I think that I do need to increase my otonappoi tango and my ability to kodawaru over finer grammar points. Preparation for the JLPT should be pretty helpful for those things.

  3. One of my favourite things about translation is definitely improving and maintaining my Japanese with minimal effort… I have slacked off on the immersion somewhat over the past few years, but even if I do nothing else in Japanese just translating keeps me from plateauing and even keeps on improving my Japanese (if extremely slowly when not combined with anything else!)

    I also like the feeling of accomplishment when I tackle a difficult sentence and can wrangle it into decent English. Or when I find the perfect word or phrase for something that I have been struggling with.

    The best thing for me is probably the fact that I can easily go into a flow state when translating, where I am so concentrated on and absorbed by the work that I don’t notice anything going on around me. I haven’t really been able to get this so often in other types of work that I’ve done.

    As I work in Japan and all of my work is for Japanese people, one of the most irritating problems is when something that I have translated is “improved” by someone who thinks that they understand English but don’t actually (a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!!), although since going freelance I rarely see what happens to my translations after I have done them, which is much less stressful for me! (I don’t really understand the mindset behind this – if you think that the English is wrong, you should contact the translator and ask them, not try to fix it yourself! Or at least ask another native speaker!)

    Something else that might be an issue for people who are more extroverted than I am is that translation is generally something you do on your own, and it can be a little bit lonely at times.

    From my experience, I think you probably need the following to actually be able to find translation interesting and satisfying:

    To be a bit of an introvert (especially if working at home)
    To be able to type quickly (it makes everything much easier and will remove a lot of frustration!)
    To enjoy learning new things.
    To love both Japanese and English, and to have good language skills in English (if you don’t, translation probably isn’t for you)
    To be able to go back through your own work and edit and correct it (I have seen a lot of translations by native English speakers with horrendous spelling/grammar mistakes that show that the translator hasn’t bothered to check their own work – I think a lot of people are overconfident about their ability to avoid mistakes! It’s very rare that I don’t find any mistakes when checking my own work)
    To have great amounts of patience (sometimes figuring out what a certain word/phrase means can take a LOT of research)

    • Great addition Jen. You are really helping to expand on these articles!

      I think the “translator zone” that you mention, where everything else is out of focus and you are fully absorbed in your work is something special.

      But having your translating second-guessed by people who shouldn’t be can be very frustrating!

      • It is the most frustrating thing! I have had people remove the words “the” and “a” randomly from translations before, which were some of the most bizarre corrections that have been forced on my work (especially seeing as using “the” and “a” correctly is one of the most difficult things for Japanese learners of English – even though my Japanese is advanced, I wouldn’t ever try to correct a native Japanese speaker’s use of “は” and “が”!)

        • I definitely feel for you.
          The number of times my and my friend’s translations into English have been re-“corrected” by Japanese people who don’t speak a lick of English, is just aggravating.

          I’ve also realized that Japanese companies have no desire to spend money on actual translators so they just ask the employee whom they think has the highest English level to translate. That’s why you get all the weird English signs around Japan. You get what you (don’t) pay for.

          • Haha very true. I think that lots of Japanese people think that Japanese is the hardest language in the world (it isn’t, although I’m not in any way saying that it’s easy!) they have no respect for how difficult English (or any other language) actually is. So they simultaneously think that Japanese is way too hard for a native speaker of English to fully get a grasp of, and think that anybody who has a toeic score of 700 or more can speak English at native level.

            There are also a lot of Japanese translators who translate from Japanese to English, and I have ended up correcting quite a few of their translations, which range from good, with a few “a/the” mistakes, to completely inappropriate vocabulary and grammar being used in pretty much every sentence. The meaning might get across, but it can make the company ordering the translation look really bad.

            At least there are quite a few companies who do realise that it’s important to at least have the English corrected by a native speaker, if not translated from the start by one.

            (…can you tell this is something that makes me angry? I could (and have!) rant for hours about this, hehe)

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