There is a distinct lack of education and support for aspiring entertainment translators. Most translation related degrees and university courses cater towards more lucrative fields or offer very generalized courses to appeal to as wide a variety of prospective students as possible. There aren’t many that offer training focusing on video games, movies or TV shows, novels, etc. and so, many entertainment translators learn through doing.
In fact, the vast majority of translators in all fields said they didn’t receive any formal education and instead learned on the job.
A lack of guidance and education can be detrimental, leading to several months of being in the red and many years of constantly repeating the same mistakes. It hurts the entertainment translation industry as well as inexperienced people easily fall for predatory practices encouraging businesses to continue poor practices.
It’s intimidating and confusing for new people entering the industry. But, as I said in my 2022 TED Talk, “you don’t know what you need to know”.
So how can new and aspiring translators learn the ropes, and how can experience translators help? Through mentoring!
What is Mentoring?
“Mentoring is a reciprocal and collaborative at-will relationship that most often occurs between a senior and junior employee for the purpose of the mentee’s growth, learning, and career development.” – Talent Development Glossary Terms
In the translation industry this is when experienced translators volunteer their time to help aspiring or less experienced translators with questions, issues, or goals they’re working towards.
This could be anything from helping with a CV, to interview practice, providing feedback on translations, answering questions, providing book and resource recommendations, suggestions for where/how to find work in a particular field, and so much more.
Mentoring is NOT Training
A mentor volunteers their time to help a mentee out, but the mentors are not trainers and they do not provide training. They don’t offer courses or classes on how to translate, they act as guides for particular problems and provide advice based on their personal experience.
Mentees Should Drive the Mentoring
The mentor’s role is to help the mentee and that can only be done when the mentee provides them with a specific question, issue, or goal they’re working towards. A mentor can’t help a mentee without knowing what they’re helping with, and the more specific information the mentee can provide, the better.
A general question like, “how do I get into translation?” is not helpful, but phrasing it as “I am X level of a language and am interested in Y industry, I have already tried ABC, but not sure what I should do next.” or “would you mind giving me feedback on my CV?” or “I translated this, would you mind giving feedback on the first page?” provides an excellent place to start.
Mentees need to approach potential mentors with specific issues.
Mentoring Might be One-Off or On-Going
Depending on the problem or question at hand, or even how the mentor/mentee relationship established (e.g. through a mentor program or casually), mentoring might be one-off or on-going.
For example, if you take part in a mentoring program (such as the IGDA’s Global Mentorship Program https://igda.org/resourcelibrary/global-mentorship-program/) then you might have a couple of online sessions with a mentor via video call over the course of six months to a year. Such programs might also provide resources and guidelines to help the mentor and mentee come up with goals or milestones, as well as track progress.
Then again, if you message a mentor directly with a request to check your CV, they might simply take a look and provide feedback via e-mail, and that’s it. Of course, if you have further questions or issues, you can always follow up with your mentor.
But remember, a mentor’s time is voluntary. Many mentors are happy to help but they can’t spend all their time helping a mentee out.
Mentoring Can be Formal or Informal
I hinted to it above but mentoring might be formally organized through a mentoring program, or they might happen casually.
I have personally experienced people asking for help via forums and I’ve offered to check their CV or a translation sample, which I’ve then provided feedback on. It’s never been a formal “we are now a mentor/mentee”, but a very casual “I’d be happy to help if you’d like.”
Formal programs might be a better option if you have a long-term goal you seeking assistance with. You’re also more likely to be guaranteed a certain amount of time or even face-time with a mentor. Mentorship programs do, however, often require you be a paid member of an organization.
Casual mentoring, on the other hand, is a little more loosey-goosey. I admit that although I have offered to look at someone’s CV, there have been times where work got in the way and it took me over a month to provide feedback. Or I’ve accidentally forgotten to look at their CV and reply to their request.
If this happens (a mentor promises to look at something but doesn’t reply for a few weeks), it’s okay to prod them. They might have gotten distracted or caught up with work and forgotten to reply, or they might be ill, or they’re no longer available but didn’t have the heart to tell you. The only way you’ll know is if you politely prod them!
Mentoring Might be with a Group or One-on-One
Mentoring doesn’t always come in the form of a one-on-one mentor/mentee relationship. Joining a forum or discord can be a great way to get lots of feedback from experienced translators and editors.
The IGDA Localization Sig has a discord group with channels for students, aspiring translators, and experienced translators to ask their peers for advice and feedback. It’s not formal mentoring but can still offer the same help as a one-on-one mentor/mentee relationship.
You are not limited to just one mentor either! Many people can act as mentors and assist you in your career.
Finding Mentors/Mentoring Programs
The tricky part for many aspiring or new translators, is finding these forums, programs, and potential mentors.
You can find potential mentors through networking on social media and professional forums. Find someone who has experience in fields you’re interested in, or expertise in a particular skill you’re interested in.
Mentoring programs can be found via the following links, looking them up on search engines, or asking your network and on social media.
Mentoring Programs in the Entertainment Translation Field*
*This is probably not a complete list, just the one’s I’ve found, so it pays to do your own research too.
IGDA Global Mentorship Program – The IGDA is an international game development society who provides a mentorship program for all game developers, including game localization and localization QA.
Women in Localization – Women in Localization offer mentorships of all and any fields of localization.
National Center for Writing’s Emerging Translator Mentorship – The NCW is a British society that offers mentorship with experienced literary translators once a year for literary translators working in a wide variety of languages into English.
The American Literary Translators Association’s Emerging Translator Mentorship Program – The ALTA’s mentorship program is the American version of the NCW and also offers mentorship with experienced literary translators in a variety of languages.
American Translation Association Mentoring Programs – The ATA is not entertainment focused at all (there are not many entertainment translators who are members because of their membership price), but they do offer mentorship for all fields and languages.
Translation and Localization Forums/Discord Groups
IGDA Localization SIG – No need to be a member to join the IGDA’s Loc SIG discord group.
HonYaks – A Japanese entertainment translation focuses discord group. (Entry to the group may take several months.)
When You’ve Found a Potential Mentor
When you’ve found a mentor, I suggest you,
1) Identify your needs and expectations. What do you want to learn? What kind of relationship would you like?
2) Look for professionals who could be potential mentors or mentorship programs in the field you’re interested in.
3) If you contact a potential mentor directly, message them clearly stating,
– why you’re contacting then and your question/issue/goal,
– why you’re interested in learning from them,
– how you hope they can help you
(Remember, don’t message them with a single sentence like “Can I ask you a question?” or “Can you be my mentor?”)
4) If they say yes to mentoring you should both establish clear and realistic expectations.
– How you will communicate with each other, and how often?
– What are your goals and milestones?
– How will you track your progress and feedback?
Either the mentor or mentee can broach these topics. (A structured mentoring program might provide you with resources that help with these.)
5) Be flexible and adapt to a mentor’s schedule, and be receptive to their feedback (see below).
How to Get the Most from Your Mentorship
As mentioned before, the mentee is the one driving a mentoring relationship. Whether it’s a structured mentorship program, or questions on a forum, it’s the mentee that’s seeking help and the mentor who is kindly offering their time and energy.
As a mentee you can get the most out of your mentorship by being proactive in your learning. Ask questions, implement feedback, ask more questions. A mentorship is work, it’s a commitment that should be taken seriously (you won’t learn if you skip out on half your sessions). You should be open-minded and receptive to the feedback and criticism given if you want to get the most from it.
And make sure the mentor knows how grateful you are for their time and knowledge!
Becoming a Mentor
Being a mentor can be a really rewarding experience. It’s a great way to think about your craft and the industry as a whole through understanding and experiencing some of the challenges facing new translators. It also allows you to give back to your translation community and establish new connections.
Mentoring isn’t for everyone, though. If you don’t have the experience or the willingness and drive to provide supportive and constructive feedback, then you’re probably not going to enjoy it and neither will your mentee.
I personally really enjoy mentoring…when I have the time/energy. That’s the trick too, you don’t need to turn it into a full-time job. Only spend as much time/energy on mentoring as you want or can.
You don’t even have to commit to months of one-on-one video calls, sometimes just answer questions in a forum or on social media is all it takes.
If you do want to be a mentor through a program, then check out the above section on finding mentors/mentorship programs.
Ending a Mentorship
Some mentoring programs have limited time-frames, perhaps even just a single one-on-one session, but they might also have long-term mentoring opportunities. And sometimes it’s time to end that relationship.
Whether you’re the mentee or mentor, be clear and kind when you communicate why you want to end the mentorship.
Ending things on a positive note is always good, and you can always keep in touch even after the mentorship has ended!
There’s no one way to find or work with a mentor/mentee. As a general rule it helps to be specific and clear in your communication, to be open-minded, helpful, and kind. If you’re an aspiring or new translator looking for help with your career, then a mentor is a great way to learn outside formal education. And if you’re an experienced translator looking to get more involved in the community, it can really help to provide guidance to those just starting to work their way up the ladder.
Happy International Translation Day!
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