– Discussions with people in the Japanese media localization industry –
Meet Diana Taylor!
My name is Diana Taylor, occasionally going by the internet handle of Laiska.
I am a Japanese-to-English translator, currently working mainly in light novels and manga. With bit of writing, editing, and game development on the side.
Currently, I am the translator for the Didn’t I Say To Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?! light novels and manga from Seven Seas. As well as Yuri is My Job! from Kodansha USA, as well as a new project still under wraps.
I live in the Washington, DC region and am a proud pet parent of two incredibly spoiled Labrador mixes, and the conscripted handservant of one very bossy cat.
How did you get into localization and what led you to your specialization?
I’ve always been a lover of languages and media. I come from a long line of pop culture enthusiasts, so geeky pursuits may as well be in my blood.
Growing up in the early-mid ‘90s, I was initiated fairly early in the first couple big waves of the rising popularity of Japanese anime and games in the States.
Also having free internet access from a young age, however, I knew how much content was out there that was not available in English. I became quickly fascinated with the idea of being responsible for making that content accessible to Western audiences.
Being naturally inclined to languages, I became intrigued with the Japanese language around the same time. Both in terms of its own structure and lyricism, and as a tool of understanding.
In my teenage years I only had access to self-study language resources. While I didn’t manage to pick up more than some basic grammar and vocabulary and the kana syllabaries, the love of the notion of localizing never left me. I put together a lot of laughably bad, dictionary-assisted translations for myself before I knew much of what I was doing.
It was not until my undergrad years that I finally had the opportunity for formal Japanese language study. And I fell in love all over again! Taking on a second major in Japanese on top of my linguistics degree, with courses in history, culture, and translation.
During this time I continued translating as a hobby, mainly working with manga and song lyrics and other short texts as personal projects.
My “professional” freelance debut came during my final term at school.
A classmate recommended me to an remote translation agency that he had recently signed on with. Through them, I did part-time gig work for a few years; on anything from Amazon product listings to pop agency press releases to children’s books.
In 2015, with this experience under my belt, I worked for several months in mobile otome games localization… Until some health issues intervened.
In late 2016, I managed to catch wind of openings for light novel translation and was finally able to get back to my media roots. I started work on my first light novel series in mid-2017.
What did you wish you knew before becoming an established translator?
I wish I had had the confidence to make an official foray into the field much sooner!
In professional terms I am still relatively young. But I feel that I lost out on some valuable years of experience by not looking for ways to make steps into my current spheres earlier on in my career.
With a more focused career trajectory I might have been able to establish myself more firmly in the profession by now. But I look forward to continuing to work hard and learn from those before me.
I wish I’d had more access early on to information about the tools and resources that people in the business typically use; rather than cobbling my own resources together.
Having more knowledge of the publishing industry would have also been a boon. The lacking of central knowledge bases in the field is something of a barrier to many industry hopefuls, in my observation.
What’s been the biggest challenge establishing yourself as a translator?
I honestly still consider myself very much a newcomer to the field, despite having a few years under my belt.
It’s easy to feel intimidated by those who have been in the field for much longer than I have. Or have the connections that I don’t and may not have access to, due to geographic location or other factors.
Without explicitly bringing identity into it, it is especially frightening as someone of several intersecting marginalized identities to promote myself in ways that others seem comfortable with.
I am, however, thankful for all the love and support I have experienced amongst colleagues. And it gives me hope for a changing face of the profession.
What have you been most proud of?
I am always proud when a specific item from my work gets a reaction from the audience. And my favorite part of the job has been getting to see those reactions from time to time.
It’s not usually possible in my current projects. (Though now and again I have caught reviews praising the translation in some of the books published so far!)
But I remember having a blast during my time working on otome games; At the time Tumblr was still fairly active, and it was great fun browsing the tags for the routes that I worked on and seeing which lines user were compelled to screencap. There was a particularly riotous reaction to my decision to have one of the characters use the word “thirsty” in its colloquial meaning (which I think is ancient slang by now, but was still a pretty fresh term at the time!).
Is there something you worked hard on that you think no one noticed?
There are certain lines and phrases that I have put a ton of research and thought into that I don’t think come across at all in the final translation, unfortunately. Usually in the form of old Japanese memes and references that require a fair bit of internet digging to decipher.
For the ones that stay intact in the translation (there are some that are sadly impossible to maintain without adding a great deal of context, and get lost in editing); it’s hard to say if anyone can tell how much work went into getting the translation to come across smoothly.
Then again, just as in any other kind of editorial work, when no one even thinks twice about it, that usually means it’s a job well-done!
What do you think people don’t know about in translation that you wish would?
If this is referring to the process itself, I wish that more readers knew that rarely does any (good) translator make a choice lightly. Especially when it comes to ambiguities and culturally-specific terminology.
Most translators will make a ‘wrong’ call from time to time. But when we decide to alter a phrase or term for some reason (readability, cultural familiarity, etc), or make one call versus another in say romanizing names, or interpreting a phrase with multiple meanings; we always do so with the best intention.
I think few professionals nowadays are in the business of any intentional bowdlerizing, at the very least.
It’s also been said by many before me, but it’s always worth noting that localization is never a unilateral process.
Besides the translator, there are editors and other officials who have their hands in the final text. So miscommunications sometimes occur – We’re only human!
In general, however, no one wants to put out a bad product. So in my individual opinion, I think it’s worth (politely!) sharing good faith, well-founded corrections; knowing that a company (and especially an individual translator) may not be in a position to do anything about it after the fact.
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
I have always been incredible curious about console game localization, but have never had the chance to formally dip my toes in. I would adore the chance to work on an RPG someday!
Similarly, I have not been in the position for it, but I think that localization editing would be a blast.
I enjoyed working both as a writer and narrative editor in independent games for a few years, and I would love the chance to combine my two passions.
In terms of specific projects, I would genuinely drop everything else on my plate if I had a chance to work on an updated official translation of the Kino no Tabi (Kino’s Journey) light novels, haha.
Is there anyone or anything you draw inspiration from?
The work done by all others in the profession, at every level, is a constant source of inspiration and learning for me.
While watching translated anime and movies alongside non-Japanese speakers I usually spend most of my focus mentally cross-referencing the spoken words and the subtitles; analyzing how accurate I think the translation is; what I would have done differently if anything; and noting particularly deft or clever turns of phrase for my own reference.
When possible, I like to pick up source texts of published works for similar cross-comparison.
Once you have enough of a body of reference to draw from, you can pick up a lot about a translator, the general circumstances, and era of the translation based on phrasing and word choice.
I also find a good source of education in reading translations from other languages. Even ones I may not understand myself.
No matter how drastically a text has been localized, if the translator attempted to keep any faithfulness to the source at all, there is typically a rhythm to any language that will come across in the finished product.
Being able to spot that rhythm; how it differs from a native English text; whether it feels natural; and what effect that has on the reading, gives you a lot of insight into what your own work might convey to a reader.
In terms of general creative inspiration; reading English language texts is the best way to make sure your head doesn’t get too muddled in the translation space!
You tend to start to forget what comfortable native English sounds like after a while.
I also probably could have noted in the earlier response; but I would say that effective communication in your target language is as crucial a skill as comprehension of your source language.
Native level fluency in a source language means nothing if you can’t communicate the concepts to your audience in a useful and engaging way. So it’s important to keep your writing chops up!
I keep a fairly eclectic library. But my perennial favorite author and greatest writing inspiration is Bradbury, particularly his short story collections. He has a style that is simple but evocative, and is capable of packing a heavy punch in a short space, which I think are good skills to have for any writing arsenal.
You Can Find Diana Here!
My professional portfolio, with a contact form to reach me, can be found at: http://waltz.moe/portfolio/
I can also be occasionally found discussing games and media and sharing pictures of my very spoiled dogs on Twitter, where I can also be reached: https://twitter.com/petitscygnes