The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation is based on a decade of Yoko Hasegawa’s experience teaching translation theory and practice at a University level in the US. It’s designed to be a complete guide for aspiring Japanese-English translators, but is it? Can a person (whether experienced or not) use this textbook to gain knowledge on Japanese translation which they can then apply to their careers?
I decided to re-read The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation by Yoko Hasegawa focusing on two questions:
- Can a new translator use this book to teach themselves Japanese-English translation?
- Can an experienced translator learn anything new?
The result of this was actually a ridiculously long summary of each chapter and section. (Which I’ve posted on this website.) But I chose to keep the review and summary separate.
This review focuses on how useful this book is, rather than its content. My review end with some tips I found useful to do while reading this book.
Summary of “The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation”
As I mentioned above I wrote a long in-depth summary of each chapter here: A Summary of “The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation”
But for the TL;DR (too long, didn’t read) summary: This is a beast of a book. It is 358 pages long (although the last 100 pages are appendix and index) with eight chapters: Introduction, Kinds of meaning I, Kinds of Meaning II, Discourse Genre, Understanding the source text, Translation techniques, Translation studies, and Translation projects.
Each chapter is broken up into smaller parts with each part clearly labeled. Key terms and information is highlighted and there are a lot of examples and exercises in both English and Japanese.
It is a textbook written by a university professor for university students, which means a very thick academic tone, with lots of terminology and academic references.
This book contains so much information. Hasegawa’s decade of experience teaching translation is condensed into this one book, making it a fountain of knowledge!
I really like how each chapter is broken up into a theme, then how these are broken up again into segments. Segments are clearly labeled with key terms highlighted in bold italics. Long quotes, examples, and exercises are highlighted by gray boxes. This makes it very easy to extract information for review.
This book expects you to have JLPT N2 equivalent Japanese but also provides some romaji reading for sentences and words when giving them as examples. I think this is a double edged sword. The romaji can be useful for read some difficult sentences (which are beyond N1 level) but can also interrupt the flow of reading.
Through the numerous examples and exercises Hasegawa discusses a lot of interesting things about English and Japanese (not just translation.) Specifically about their connection to cultural and social expectations. I learned a lot about Japanese language and culture that I didn’t know before. (Such as 目を細める in Japanese is associated with someone smiling, but a literal translation “narrowing one’s eyes” is associated with suspicion.)
If you cannot afford a full Masters Degree in translation (and honestly, who can) then I think this is a good substitute for the sort of information you will get from it.
This book contains so much information. Almost too much at times! Despite the clearly marked sections and bolded key terms, there are a umber of long paragraphs with a heavy academic style of writing. Which can make this a dull, slow, or difficult read at times.
I found that all too often her explanations for certain grammar points just made me more confused. (Especially when they didn’t come with examples.)
Some of her discussions of theory are also confusing, unless you already know the theory she’s referencing. In the first few chapters it’s a little unclear how any of this information applies to practical translation, although the exercises help to contextualize key points.
As I mentioned in the positives, this book says you need N2 level Japanese. But I think you may even need N1 level ability at times to understand most of the practice exercises and examples. This is because Hasegawa draws on poetry and old texts as examples, which often contain very difficult Japanese.
This a great substitute for an expensive Masters Degree in Translation, but that’s because it’s an academic book! Hasegawa is mostly discussing translation from the scholarly viewpoint. (And academics have argued about translation and linguistics for a long time!)
Translators might look like they know what they’re doing but there’s no “one” way to translate. She presents a lot of different viewpoints and approaches which might not be so useful to inexperienced translators. Especially those who want clear direction into how to translate.
Can A New Translator Learn Translation?
Parts That Are Useful for New/Aspiring Translators
If you’re a creative translator then you might want to read the part in Chapter 4 Discourse Genre (section 4.1) about different tenses in narrative translation.
The entirety of Chapter 6 of looks at specific translation techniques, which can be very useful for aspiring translators. Such as calque, directly translating source words as noun phrases, e.g 牛丼 as “beef bowl,” or how it’s okay to omit information if it’s repetitive or irrelevant.
However, Chapter 8 is probably the most useful for novice translators. But surely the chapter that focuses on translation techniques is best? Nope. Chapter 8: Translation projects.
This chapter discusses the translation process in a practical sense. So not the theory but the process of the translator thinking about the purpose of the text, the audience, the style guide (if any,) the deadline. She has a whole section on the process of reading the source text multiple times and what they should be expecting with each read. Then the research needed to properly translate the text. And finally the need for term bases (known as corpus,) as well as the importance of editing your work.
If you’re an aspiring translator and you get this book to learn more about how to translation I suggest you read Chapter 8 before anything else.
Parts That Are Not Useful for New/Aspiring Translators
I mentioned before that this book can be a slog to read. Especially if you’re not used to academic writing. I think it has a lot of really great and important information, and if you’re a beginner Japanese-English translator you should read this book! But it’s not an easy read and it will take a long time to go through each section and complete each exercise.
Hasegawa explains theory and translation techniques but often doesn’t explain why. Why are certain things are the way they are? How do they apply to translation in practice?
Such as the section in Chapter 6 on equivalence uses お元気ですか being translated as “How have you been?” as an example for equivalence. But it doesn’t explain that this is because this is the equivalent phrase we would use in English in that specific situation. You can probably guess based on context, but the lack of explanation can be limiting to those new to translation.
The lack of how this theory applies to practical translation is also frustrating. (This was my biggest issue with my MA in Translation.) How can I use these theories and techniques in real life? An experienced translator will probably have already learned all of this from trial and error, although they might not know the “official” terms for the techniques they’re using. (Chapter 8 is useful but it’s more about the translation process as a whole rather than action of translation.)
Can An Experienced Translator Learn Anything?
If you’re an experience translator and you want to learn more about the academic side of translation theory then I highly recommend this book!
It might not be that useful in terms of learning anything new, but it’s interesting to learn about the theory behind the things you’ve probably done for years without knowing the names for them.
I definitely think that even experienced translators will find the translation exercises useful. It’s a good way to hone your skills, and practice working with different types of texts. You might even find yourself thinking about translation in new ways!
Tips for Reading This Book
Summarize in your own words
Write down, in your own words, a summary for each section/key point. Keep these as long or short as you like, but don’t copy her words! Write them out as if you were explaining the ideas to a ten-year-old. This will help you understand the text and easily review the information later.
Do the exercises
Don’t skip the exercises! Really understand how they apply to the points Hasegawa is trying to make. You won’t have anyone marking them for you, but they are still good to do. (If you get stuck or want feedback you can always ask experience translators on social media if they’d be willing to help!)
Read Chapter 8 first
I understand why Chapter 8 is the last chapter, but I feel it puts everything beforehand into context. (Especially if you’re an aspiring translator.)
So I suggest you read Chapter 8 first, then go back and read the book all the way through. This will help because you can apply the practical tips from Chapter 8 to the exercises throughout the book. Then re-read Chapter 8 after you’ve read everything else.
Take it slow
I’ve banged on about his this is a slog. It’s not a book you can read through in a weekend (especially if you do the exercises.) I honestly think it’s fine to pace yourself, doing a little every few days. Really focuses in-depth on a single section at a time. Review often so you don’t forget. Ask the translation community questions if you have any. Treat this book like a year-long degree in translation studies!
You probably guessed that I found this book hard to read. But I also found it incredibly informative and interesting. I think it can be an incredibly useful tool for people willing to put the time and effort into this book. It’s really one of those books where the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out.
Purchase The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation from the publisher here!
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