Speed. Accuracy. You want them both. In your Japanese and in your Japanese translation. The higher your translation skill rises, the higher each of these is lifted up with it. However, regardless of how high you go, you can’t reach a maximum for both. They are a balancing scale. You can improve the scale, and make each base start off higher, but there will come a time when you have to choose which is more important.
As some people mentioned in the skill required for translation post, accuracy vs. speed is weighed by the client. Some companies just want a rough translation and don’t care about how thorough or accurate it is. They want it now, cheap, and finished as they are requesting it. Other places want perfection. They are translating sensitive documents, where mistranslated words can be disastrous (ex. contracts, legal, health, finance, science).
Which is more important?
There is no more important. It’s what the client wants based on the project. It’s when they ask for both at the same time that you are in for some trouble. Translation is a skill that takes time. Changing one language to another isn’t some mechanical process. Not only do you have to find what fits in the other language, you also have to keep the tone of the original, and make sure it flows smoothly.
You have to rearrange the structure of most sentences, which are naturally reversed in Japanese. The easiest way to translate fast and save time is to translate as you are reading. Japanese poses an obstacle this, because the important parts come at the end of the sentence. Translating directly into English, in the same sentence order as Japanese is possible. However, it leads to awkwardness, and occasionally puts the emphasis on the wrong things. But if you are asked for a focus on speed, and getting the general feel across is all that is required, you can translate straightforward like this.
When accuracy is key, you have to read first, and then retrace your steps back to the beginning. In the case of giant walls of text, you often have to read through the sentences (with multiple commas) over and over again. While you understand it in Japanese, figuring out how you are going to make it work in English is a thought-intensive activity that can’t be rushed.
I think translators prefer accuracy, so it can be hard on you when you are pressed for speed by the client. Since it is your work product, you don’t want it to be a mess. Sometimes you have to explain why it takes time, and why it will be worth it in the long run. You have to be prepared to be ignored while the client insists on a hasty translation. It’s an uncomfortable rush, but you do what you gotta do. As you become more experienced and valued, it’s easier for you to choose clients, and work on your terms.
The high rank translators will eventually propel both their speed and accuracy to superhuman heights. The advantage they have is not just that they have seen the Japanese sentences and understand them instantly, but that they have translated the Japanese sentences before in the past. This allows for translations to be pulled out instantly, which is something impossible for a translator of lesser experience. This is why the rank 5 and 6 translators are extremely valuable, and rightly earn their much higher salary.
Feel the balance
While sometimes the speed vs. accuracy issue looming over you may feel unpleasant, it isn’t worth worrying abut. You get used to it, and it gets better. For now, just think of all of this as another obstacle that awaits you to overcome it.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.