Becoming a Japanese Translator – Intro

Many people who are passionate about Japanese dream about making that Japanese a major part of their lives. To do that, the most obvious solution is to use Japanese in whatever career or job you pursue. And when fluent Japanese comes to mind, 2 careers stand at the forefront: translation and interpreting. Even if you had never thought about these careers before studying Japanese, everyone thinks about it at some point. You spent months and years mastering Japanese for free. What if now you could get paid for it?

Becoming A Japanese Translator - Introduction 1

I’ve held back on articles discussing translation for a long time.

First, I didn’t want to give advice before I really got to know the field. And second, there is enough information to start a second blog on the subject, so the thought of writing a “becoming a translator” post just seemed so daunting that I’ve pushed it off until now.

However, I finally think I’ve solved both issues.

  1. I have slowly gained significantly “more” experience over the years
  2. I’m going to discuss translation in a long series of articles, in no particular order, and in a way I find enjoyable.

Mainly what I want to accomplish with this series is a set of easily accessible articles about Japanese translation that provide a fresh and fun perspective. I’m hoping to be able to make a lot of this relevant to use of Japanese in general, even if you have no desire to become a translator.

My qualifications to talk about this?

Becoming A Japanese Translator - Introduction 2

I’m not some super long veteran pro who has been doing this his whole life, and I have no deep ties to the industry. But I think this gives me a completely different angle on things. I want to make translation feel as close as possible to you and within reach. Not some “you need experience to gain experience” irritating cycle of not getting a job you want.

I was an amateur/volunteer free translator for a few years when I lived in Japan. After returning to the U.S., and finishing up some additional schooling (unrelated to translation), I have done about five years of professional freelance translating, mostly in the “non-exciting” sector (finance, law, manufacturing, etc). As many of you know (or don’t?), I still do it now. It’s one of the professional things I do (among others) that I split my time between Jalup with. As this site increasingly takes up more time, I do less translation (which is completely fine by me).

I have many mixed feelings, opinions and ideas about the field so this won’t necessarily be  a super “go be a translator!” series, but I will try to make it as valuable as possible.

Translating in the cards for you?

Enough of my not-so-super intro. I will get into more thrilling details next time. But to start this off, I want to hear from all of you. Do you or have you ever had any interest in becoming a Japanese translator?

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

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


Becoming a Japanese Translator – Intro — 28 Comments

  1. Ah I’m so glad you’re going to write about this!
    While my primary motivation to study the language is to enjoy all these things I love (manga, music, books, etc etc and eventually going to Japan), being a translator is something I seriously consider.
    English is my second language and even if I’m a designer I’m currently working as an english teacher/translator. Becoming a japanese translator is something that would interest me very much.

  2. One of my goals is to translate Japanese for some income during high school and university. I’m very excited for these set of articles! Quick question: what level would be appropriate to start translating? I guess at level 60.

  3. Awesome! I’m really glad you are writing about this since it’s something i’ve been thinking about for a long time. I hope you also talk at least a little about how studying J-J has affected your translation ability as well, since I feel like it’s almost made it more difficult for me personally to translate, since I can’t think of English translations for many words on the fly.

    • I am a translator, and although I don’t know what Adam’s experiences are, but personally I found that studying J-J made it much harder at first, but I think studying J-J gives you a MUCH greater understanding of what the Japanese is trying to say in the first place, seeing as Japanese and English are so different. Also, if you do technical translation (what I mostly do) then there are lots of words that will not come up in a J-E dictionary, so it’s actually really helpful to be used to a J-J dictionary! The main downside is that it is much easier for your English to end up sounding slightly unnatural because you’ve been so immersed in Japanese.
      Being a good translator requires a whole different skill set to just understanding both languages (despite what most people think), so it has a bit of a steep learning curve at first anyway.

      • You are already getting into what I will be talking about next. I definitely look forward to you including your experience in the comments in future parts of this series!

    • Also… if you’re translating, you don’t need to know them on the fly. If you’re interpreting, you definitely do. I could never be an interpreter, but translation, where if I can’t quite remember the right word I can just put in a few blanks, or quickly look it up in a dictionary, suits me just fine.

      • Thanks for sharing that! I haven’t actually done much technical translation myself, so I can imagine it gets much easier once you learn the terms. I’m going to a college workshop to learn about interpretation today as well, so that should be interesting.

    • Yes, one of the first topics will be just on that. The J-J slight disadvantage (?) and the completely separate skill.

  4. I personally don’t have any ambition of becoming a translator. I enjoy Japanese the most when it’s Japanese, and me understanding it in Japanese without falling back on English. I feel like translating from Japanese into English detracts from how I understand and get meaning out of the Japanese that I’m translating. As I have a very good long term memory, I can look back at stuff that I haven’t touched for years and still remember a lot about it. Whenever I revisit something that I’ve tried translating into English in the past, when I go back and look at the Japanese, the old English translation (even if it’s from two or three years back) will get stuck in my head and get in the way of complete Japanese grasp and depth of understanding.

    • This will actually be an issue I will be discussing, and a factor that goes into whether you really want to translate or not.

  5. Yes, I have thought about translating.

    Last summer/fall, I translated a friend’s blog for some other people in our mutual group of friends who did not read Japanese. My friend was visiting Japan, and was trying to avoid English as much as possible while she was there. In order to help her out, and to let our other friends know what was going on, I translated her blog, and I relayed a few messages back and forth between our friends.

    Shortly before Christmas, I did some translating…from Swedish. My Swedish is still at a beginner’s level…and I was more of a beginner then. But, my grandmother had just passed, and she was very proud of a book article that was written about her and my grandfather by an author who wrote about their hometown in Sweden. She showed us all (and everyone else) that article…even though none of the family (or her friends) read Swedish. So, as a gift to my family, I translated the two page article…taking several weeks, using Google translate and two Swedish-English dictionaries.

    I did enjoy both projects, but as people have already said, when translating, I processed the material in my mind in English, and I do not remember what I read in Japanese (or Swedish), but in my translated English version.

    Still, I have considered translating as a potential work-from-home part time job to bring in some extra income for my family. Sure I would rather understand Japanese in Japanese…but 仕事は仕事ですね。 I would imagine I have quite a ways to go before my Japanese is ready for that, though. I would judge my level to be at a beginning 3rd grade level right now.

    • The end of your comment hits on a future point I will also discuss. Certain types of translation act as a portable job, can be good money, and adds some interesting freedom to your life that other jobs don’t.

  6. I am nowhere near the level needed, yet, but this is definitely something I have been considering. I really love Japanese, so I would really like to integrate it into my professional life somehow. Translating seems the most obvious way to do that.

  7. As a translator myself I am fascinated to hear your take on it, and maybe the reasons why you don’t want it to be a larger part of the work you do! Translation definitely isn’t for everyone (not everyone will be good at it, not everyone will enjoy it, and most importantly for this site, not everybody will want to spend that much time with their native language!), although I think lots of people who study languages to a high level see it as an obvious career option.

    • Hopefully I won’t disappoint then! I’m not exactly a typical translator, because it’s only one part of what I do, but feel that it gives me one foot into translation, and one foot into just using Japanese.

      But I’ll get into what I enjoy about it, what I don’t, and where I’m heading with what I do.

  8. Translating Japanese for income is a dream of mine. I am so glad you wrote this piece. I’ve heard so many negative things about my aspirations like it’s a pipe dream so I’m excited to see your views on it all. I’m still pretty much a beginner so I’ve got a lot way to go, which is why it’s too bad I didn’t realize my passion of Japanese earlier in my 20s or something.

    I look forward to your following articles!

  9. Hi Adam! I just realized that you have returned to US (I thought you still live in Japan). Are you in California, by the way? You mentioned your 1 hour train ride on your previous post, sounds like my daily Amtrak commute!

    On translations, I used to work as a freelance translator for a while before I have to focus on my current study. It’s not an English – Japanese translation project, but I somehow get a grasp of translator world. As you mentioned, the “not-really-interesting” fields require additional skills, particularly about the jargon. However, it’s “especially interesting” for people like me who have the background knowledge in it. It’s like learning and getting paid at the same time!

    • A lot of people make the assumption I live in Japan, but I’ve been back in the states for the past 8 years. I live in New York City. For people that follow me on Instagram, you often get a lot of pictures from NYC from me.

      I’m definitely looking forward to hearing some of your experiences on the continuing posts in this series.

      • I just realized there’s instagram link on top. *oops* I’m following you now.

        I actually have an idea for people who would like to learn to become a translator, even though I’ve never been a Japanese translator before. May I send you e-mails when I have something to share?

  10. From what I understand, to be a good translator you would have to be a good writer in the language you’re translating to. You probably also need to balance accurate translation with what sounds more natural. I’m curious what you would have to say on these things.

    • Yup, being good at English is just as important as being good at Japanese. I’ll definitely try to hit on those topics as well.

      • Actually, translation is indeed an academic career. Speaking and writing in one language or another is one thing, professional translation another. I was perfectly fluent in English long before I started to study translation at university. Some people have indeed enough talent (and self-criticism) to translate without graduate studies – bust most don’t and you can tell. Speaking a foreign language is a talent, translating is a profession which requires talent but also a lot of technique. Mastering your native language nearly flawlessly is an absolute must just as much as being (cognitively) familiar with different registers. Last but not least one needs to understand what is to be translated. That means that your work won’t be worth anything if you try your luck in the automobile industry without being thoroughly familiar with the technology involved (components, types of engines/combustion, transmission, etc.). The same applies to the translation of software which is really a subject area to shed tears over.

        • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject. I agree, there is way more to translation than just knowing 2 languages fluently. Translating and translating well are also 2 completely different things.

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