Happy National Translation Day!

I would like to celebrate National Translation Day (9/30) by telling you a story about frustration, fighting, and self discovery.


Translation Never Seemed to Click At First

My very first job outside of University was working as a technical translator and project manager trainee for an automotive company. I had never translated before and they assumed that because I knew Japanese I could do it, and I did too!

But anyone who actually translates knows that’s NOT the case.

Needless to say much of my time at this company was making VERY direct translations. Which isn’t a bad thing when you’re working on technical translations.

But I was never happy. Something just didn’t fit.


MA in TranslationLong story short I left that company after a year and decided to find out what was missing. So I did an MA in translation.

That was a disaster too though! I left my MA in translation still feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled. And it took me a while to work out what was missing.

Despite going to a prestigious school we were just left to practice translation, but not really told HOW to translate. Let alone the business side of translation!


And so despite a year of experience of translation and another year doing an MA in translation, I was still stumbling. Still failing to grasp what translation was, what it meant, how I could do it right.

I did 2 years of freelance translation after my MA doing what work I could. This meant low paying jobs on crowd sourcing sites *shudder*. As well as a couple of video game translations for a company that wanted volunteers more than translators (resulting in 200,000+ character jobs at less than $0.005 a character).

These low paying jobs were hardly motivators and I was still struggling to find what translation should be. What it meant to me.


Then LocJAM Japan Happened

The LocJAM Japan was a Japanese to English video game translation competition in 2016. The game was a simple classic RPG style game but with a tactical twist to it.

The thing about this translation was I wasn’t translating it for money, but for myself and the judges. I didn’t have to fit to a certain translation style or wording. And I had the time and freedom to experiment with my translation.

The most important thing though was that I had creative freedom.

Up until that moment I had been so paranoid about mistranslating something that I tended to translate TOO directly.

I was also paranoid about it being any GOOD that I proof read it about 7-8 times. And had two other people proofread it too (something you’re not allowed to do with paid work).

And you know what? It worked!

I really enjoyed translating Ikinari Maou and the challenges that came with it. And I was thrilled to get an honorable mention (which was like coming joint 2nd, at least that’s what I tell myself).


The Hiccups Continued Though…

I’ve still found myself stumbling a lot.

Namely with one company where I didn’t proofread properly and was hit with “were you translating this half asleep?”

I was kicking myself for weeks and feeling like an overall failure.

But you can either learn from your mistakes and pick yourself up, or beat yourself down and quit.

I decided to get back up.


Let Your Creative Juices Flow

After a year of correspondents with a company I got work translating a 26 episode anime for DVD release.

Once again the translation juices flowed, this time followed by extensive editing.

I moved away from translating word for word and tried to use phrases that a native English speaker would say if they were put in the same situation as the characters.

Of course their are limitations given what’s being said on screen might be short, or have English words. But this is probably the first large project I’ve felt incredibly proud about.


Translate Like No One’s Watching

I’ve realized a shift in perspective when I started to translate in a way that I would be proud of, not what I thought the person hiring me would want.

Of course I do care what they think and want. I still follow translation guidelines and standards. I ask for feedback and if there is anything I can improve.

But when I translate more creative works I think more selfishly. I translate in the moment. I translate what I would like to read if I was the audience.

Now I try to translate like no one’s watching.


What Next?

Now I’m fully embracing my mantra to translate like no one’s watching by translating on the bus! Specifically for very creative works and only the first draft.

I’m working on a short story for the Kurodahan Press Translation Competition which is due in just a few weeks!

I’ve found that writing the first draft out by hand has been a great exercise. I can’t get distracted by the internet. And I have to think carefully about how to approach lines because I’m writing in pen.

It’s been a great exercise for me because I only have 20 minute bursts twice a day, so my brain gets a rest to come back later. This means I’m not getting creative or translation fatigue. (And I’m enjoying my bus trips a lot more!)


So if you’re a new translator struggling with the balance of direct translation, what you think people want and creativity, then all I have to say to you is translate like no one’s watching.

Free yourself by translating the feeling, not the words. Translate it in the way that you want to, that’s true to you. Translate something to the point where you’re proud of it. Enjoy your translation.

Happy National Translation Day!

Getting the Creative Juices Flowing – Translate Like No One’s Watching