Becoming A Japanese Translator: Finding Work
Have I convinced you to try your hand at translation? Maybe you are filled with excitement, and ready for the newest challenge that awaits. So dive right in! Where? Where is the diving board? Where is the pool? How do you even start?
Like any new career, it can be hard to find where to begin. Luckily it no longer involves searching in the dark in the hopes of finding some ray of light leading to an entrance. There are multiple websites that you can join that allow you to dip your feet in the translator pool for the first time, or dive into the deep-end, depending on your experience and desire.
But first let’s talk about experience.
Most places ask for experience. Of course if you are hiring someone to do a translation job you are going to ask for experience. Why wouldn’t you? This leaves you in a catch-22, where to get experience, you need to have experience. But you have a good option available to you in the very beginning:
This has a three-fold effect. You develop actual translation skill, you build up your resume, and you make connections. It isn’t hard to do. For example:
1. Go to a amateur Japanese manga site and offer to translate manga into English.
2. Go to an amateur Western comic site and offer to translate manga into Japanese.
Then do the same for every field of content you can think of. Amateur newspapers, websites, YouTube videos, etc. No one is going to pass up free expansion of their content to either the rest of the world, or to Japan.
Resist the temptation to do copyright infringing translations. While you might have fun translating manga or anime you love, it can become an issue if you are asked about it. It also limits your ability to develop contacts and references. When you are working from amateur sources, they may pay you in the future for additional work, or refer paying sources to you.
Get creative. Offer to translate restaurant menus, social media, presentations, speeches, e-mails, and anything else you can think up. While not everyone will respond to you, some will, and you can work from there.
Use your experience to start small.
Congratulations, you’re experienced! Your next urge is to immediately explore the sites and start picking out jobs for massive projects, like translating hundreds of pages of instruction manuals for large companies. Don’t do this. Start small.
There are often two types of gigs you’ll find:
1. Large projects from regular companies
2. Casual stuff from individuals asking to translate an email, small report, or subtitle their video
Begin with something tiny and specific. It’s easier to get a job like this with less experience. It also gets you warmed up to dealing with clients, gives you a good feel of how much time translation takes, what projects you should be bidding on, and at what rate.
To the websites!
Below I’m going to introduce 4 freelance translator websites, and 3 regular translator hire sites, in no particular order. I’m not endorsing any of them, so use them at your own risk. I’m including what a sample search for Japanese translation jobs looks like, and for the freelance translator sites I’m also including a screenshot of a random project.
Go ahead and start translator job level upping!
1. Translator’s Cafe
I don’t have any samples because they require registration, and taking a series of tests to even look at the jobs posted. But they are fairly big and popular, so definitely worth checking out.
Upwork is the merger of the two older freelance services Elance and oDesk.
Next up are some typical places to find non-freelance translation jobs.
And there is always Craigslist…
Taking your first steps
Your experience will vary greatly depending on how you use a site, the people posting the projects, and how good you’ve built up your resume.
What other sites do you know of that are great for either getting freelance translation work, or a full-time translation job? If you have any experience with the above sites, or stories of how you got your own volunteer translation experience before using these sites, leave a comment!
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Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
Telling people to work for free is such a shitty thing to do. Manga scanlations is one thing, there’s a huge community doing them for free anyway, but social media, speeches, presentations, e-mails? This is something somebody would be getting paid for. Encouraging people to work for free is killing the industry. Also, if you translate e-mails for free for somebody, no way that they’ll suddenly think “oh, maybe I’ll start paying them now”. They’ll gonna milk the sucker who is doing free work for them dry.
There’s a difference between telling skilled professionals to work for free, and telling a beginner with no experience and limited skills to work for free.
To draw an analogy, whenever someone asks me how to get into the Video Game industry, I tell them to go build a portfolio and gain experience. I tell them to make things in their free time (that they probably won’t make money on), and to volunteer their services to small independent projects (that they likely won’t get paid for). This allows them to build an experience base, and is effectively an investment in their future career. They have to do this because companies would rather pay for a skilled pro, than have the work done for free by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
This, this, this. I broke into web development in a similar way. Taught myself to program in a very short time and then began contributing massively to opensource projects. It allowed me to have something on my resume, let me make connections in the industry, and gave me vital experience working on projects with other people. With that foothold, I was able to quickly get a paid position.
Even students who get into an industry via the more traditional four-year-college path, often do an unpaid or extremely low-paid intenship towards the end of their schooling, for a similar reason.
It is an unfortunate fact of the world that it takes experience to get a job, and a job to gain experience, so doing things for free that let you demonstrate that experience are simply part of paying your dues.
It’s very easy to fall into this trap especially when you are starting out, but take a step back for a second.
Two people are interviewing for a job, one says they have zero experience in the field. The other talks about all the projects they have worked on (volunteering of course). Who has the better chance at getting the job?
The only thing that’s killing the industry is people who claim to be professional translators, but are just scammers who undercut the genuine translators out there and end up doing a crappy job. Companies like Gengo and Yaqs don’t exactly help here, but I don’t think they’re very well respected in the industry, anyway. Anyone with real talent will be able to find work, and if you have knowledge in a specialist field, you’ll be able to carve out a niche and you’ll be the one doing the milking.
If someone’s looking for a translator to work for free on their small project, chances are quality is not important enough for them to want to pay anyway. No experienced, skilled translator would touch these kinds of jobs, but they could be great for a newbie looking to get some experience. You’d be lucky to get paying work from them in the future, but if you’re working for free, you can always ask your non-paying clients to start paying up. If they turn around and say no, then they’re the ones that have to find a new translator.
That non-paying client is a potential future reference for when you pass a translation test for an agency after a month of doing small jobs for free. In the end, it’s your ability and professionalism that count, not how many jobs you’ve done, for free or otherwise.
Does anyone have specific amateur manga websites, newspapers, blogs etc., that they’ve done free translations for to get practice? I’m having trouble finding good places to do this. I’ve been using Gengo a bit but the jobs available can be pretty sparse a lot of the time. Thank you!
Your first step is to find a big amateur manga site.
So for example: the site Comico, http://www.comico.jp/official/
You find a somewhat popular amateur author. For example: http://www.comico.jp/author/39/
This site doesn’t offer a direct contact form (some sites do), but you could just copy/paste her name into Google, and find a Social account. For example, I found her Twitter account (https://twitter.com/furuya_m?lang=ja). Then it’s all just a matter of sending her a compelling message.
You can do the same thing on YouTube (if you want to offer subtitles).
Hope this helps!
Awesome, thank you so much!