I explained in part one of this series how experienced translators will tell aspiring translators that they need to practice. However, that can be easier said than done. How does one practice and improve their translation skills?
Translation isn’t just one skill, it’s a whole combination of them. Which I broke up into six parts (used to be five); source language, target language, learning from others, self-editing, niche (aka field specific language), and dialogue (including accents/dialects).
This short series provides suggestions for exercises for translators to practice and improve their translation skills.
This six-part series is designed for all levels; from amateur to professionals, looking to hone their skills.
- Understanding Source Texts
- Improving English Writing
- Learning from Others
- Improve Your Self-Editing
- Working on Your Niche
- Improving Dialogue (Accents and Dialects)
(The above will be updated with the relevant web page links once each article has been released.)
Improving English Writing
The other week I proposed some techniques for improving one’s understanding of the source Japanese text. However, understanding the source is only a part of translation. Translators, especially those who work in entertainment, need to have a good command of the English language.
So many times I have seen translations that grasp the meaning in Japanese but sound pants in English. Or rather, that don’t use natural sounding English, or are void of characterization.
It is possible to accurately reflect the meaning of the source Japanese in a way that reads naturally to English natives.
One of the best exercises you can do to improve your English is to write short pieces of writing. These short pieces only have to be between 800-1000 words (two to three pages), and it helps keep your writing sharp to stick within these limitations.
There are also different types of English which you need to draw on depending on the situation. Below are a few fields which each have their own styles of English.
Tourism / Website Translators
Tourism and website transition is interesting field because the range of topics is insanely huge. However, the basic writing style is; understandable, enticing and informative.
If you read any tourist website or blog you will find short and sweet paragraphs. Informative but also enticing in a way that encourages a person to visit a place or buy a product.
A few topics you could try writing on:
- Your own local area or a local event.
- A particular event (could be religious or secular) that you’re interested in.
Imagine writing the article as if you are trying to convince people to visit the place or event. Think about how you would be convinced. What would you like to know about? What is essential information, not just fluff?
I think the majority of technical translators have backgrounds in technical fields, so most have technical writing down pat.
If, however, you are a self-trained technical translator, you might want to flex those technical writing skills by writing some short articles.
- Subject you’re interested in.
- Subjects you’re not interested in.
Subjects you’re interested in is an easy exercise. It’s easy to write something good on a subject you’re passionate about. However, technical writers often have to write about subjects they’re not interested in. So picking a subject at random can be another great exercise. You might also be surprised by what you learn about the subject!
As the language of technical writing can vary between fields, you might also want to explore taking a free online course in technical writing. Coursera and edX have a variety of options, but here is a list of a few others.
Creative Entertainment Translators
I think a surprising number of creative translators were not writers before they started translating. At least I wish I had begun practicing my creative writing skills a lot sooner!
Writing short stories of about 800-1000 words (around two to three pages) can be a great exercise in practicing your English grammar, accents, word choices, natural sounding English, etc.
- What If? – What if scenarios are great for getting the brain juices going.
- Fanfiction – Okay, hear me out, writing about your favourite characters IS good.
- Spin-off – this is basically fanfiction but try writing your own spin-off from a manga or fiction you’ve translated in the past.
These short stories don’t need to be complicated or impressive.
One issue I find is I can’t think of anything good to write about. I think that’s where writing spin-offs of things you’ve worked on in the past, or fanfiction, can be a great tool to come up with something fun without much thought.
Again, there are a number of free creative writing courses online, including podcasts and articles full of great advice! Check out MasterClass for some create creative writing courses from published authors! (As well as the aforementioned Coursera and edX.)
But the best way to improve really is to practice, practice, practice.
Don’t Just Write, Improve!
Step one to improving your writings is to run your piece by a colleague. This could be a fellow translator, an editor, or someone with knowledge in the field you’re writing on. By the way, I highly suggest offering to pay said person for their time, especially if you want professional feedback.
Posting your short pieces of writing on a personal or industry specific blog is not only a great way to get peer feedback, but to show off your expertise and writing skills!
Take any feedback you receive and try to apply it to your next piece of writing.
Write the piece as if it were paid work that will be published.
And most of all, have fun!