Achieving my Dream as a Video Game Translator in Japan — 10 Comments

  1. Wow. Very inspiring, as usual for this series! That was a nice jump from the N2 to the N1 in just six months, for one. And landing your dream job just a year later: perfect.

    • I really wasn’t ready for the N1 and only scraped a pass. I’m thinking of taking it again this December, but I swear it will be the last time!

      It was hard to focus on the end goal at times, especially when it was one that was years down the line, but the perseverance was worth it. The posts here and the reader comments often gave me that little push I needed to finish my reviews.

  2. Such a great story!! Game translating is something I’ve always been interested in. I’m a pretty high level and play plenty of Japanese video games, but I have no idea how to get started in a translation career. How did you get started in your career? I’d love to talk to you some time about that.

    • You’re in luck then! I’m planning to write something in the near future that goes into more detail about the steps I took to finally get my current job.

      I will expand on this, but to give you a brief answer now: I started blogging about game localization, started hanging out with translators, attended some local J-E and E-J game translation events (living in Tokyo helps there), basically did everything in my power to show I was focused and to make acquaintances in the industry. Soon enough I had a few leads for in-house positions, to which I applied, one fell through at the last minute and the other I got. It was a combination of hard work and timing. As well as a killer tip off from an experienced colleague!

      • There are game translation events here o.o? (I live just south of Shinagawa). I am more interested in book translation, but being a life-time gamer I certainly wouldn’t mind at least sitting in on something like that for the knowledge!

        • You should try attending a few of the Japan Association of Translators meetings and chatting to a few people. The events are pretty regular, the people very nice, you definitely learn something, and there are casual networking events after the presentations. You don’t even have to be a member to go along.

          The subject matter for the seminars is varied, mostly on the technical and legal side, and geared towards freelancers, but I attended one given by manga and game translation duo Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda. I met some amazing people there who really helped me over the final hurdle and into a job. You really never know who you’ll meet at these events and I really recommend you go along.

    • Short answer: Only J>E. I would never be allowed to do E>J and I wouldn’t trust an employer who expected me do that for video games. Internal documents, and perhaps more technical and formulaic documents aside, games are expected to contain so many colloquial turns of phrase, accents, and cultural references that a non-native speaker just wouldn’t be able to do it quick enough or well enough. I’ve reviewed a couple of J>E translations by non-natives and they were bad. Really bad.

      I think there’s a reluctance to use even true bilinguals in game translation going in both directions. Someone might be bilingual in speaking, but being bilingual in writing as well is rarer, I think. If someone is learning Japanese at home and English at school, then there’s going to big disparity in the language they’re using in both environments and hence a tendency to excel in one language in certain areas. Who would you rather translate your Gundam game into English – someone who grew up watching it in English or Japanese?

      • I’m surprised to hear you say that. I was under the impression that it was normal to have native speakers of both languages collaborating on a single translation project.

        For the Gundam example, I think “growing up with it” would be a valuable trait in terms of passion for the project, but wouldn’t necessarily lead to quality or consistency on its own. That I’d expect to come from the translator being highly organized and doing lots of contemporary research, and ultimately benefiting from the presence of a skilled editor who wields Ye Almighty Style Guide XD

        Anyway, it’s also fair to say that every studio works differently, and really this is only my personal take based on limited interaction with game loc teams. I guess my point is I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that you have no value to an E>J project =)

        • Like you say, I’m sure each studio operates differently, so my comment may have been a bit too sweeping a generalization. If a company has stupendously talented bilingual translators then they should use them and treasure them. Certainly, I work with native Japanese speakers, some of whom are translators, but our collaboration only goes so far – we would never translate game text the other way, but do regularly ask questions about nuance and meaning, or technical questions relating to glossaries, software, style guides and terminology.

          Your point about research is absolutely spot on. Determined and thorough research skills are essential for a translator in any field, but there’s only so much research you can do before you need to actually start translating. After all, if outsourced, a standard translation project is generally charged by source character for J>E, source word for E>J, not by the hour.

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