Translation is a highly skilled career, yet the majority of translators are self-taught. Perhaps a class at college or a seminar here and there, but the majority of translators don’t tend to go to school for formal training. Even those who have received formal translation education in some form or another continue improve their knowledge through books, podcasts, webinars, seminars, etc. Yes what about skills?

Even with an MA in translation and working in-house at a company most of the advice from other more experienced translators has been practice. “The more you translate the better you get!” They say.

One thing I struggled with (especially at the start) was how do I practice?!

Well, after years of learning translation through trial and error, I’d like to share some exercises that translators can use to help improve their translation skills.


This five-part series is designed for all levels; from amateur to professionals, looking to hone their skills.

  1. Understanding Source Texts
  2. Improving English Writing
  3. Learning from Others
  4. Improving Self-Editing
  5. Working on Your Niche

(The above will be updated with the relevant web page links once each article has been released.)

Understanding Source Text - How to Improve Your Translations Skills


Exercises for Understanding Source Texts

One aspect of professional translation is understanding the source text. Obviously there is a element of interpretation of each text which varies between people, and human errors can occur, but with a stronger understanding of the source text you will avoid major translation errors.

As such, here are two exercises a translator can practice to help them improve their understanding of the source.

(Note: I am coming from a Japanese > English translation perspective but these can work in any language pair.)

1. Paraphrase Paragraphs and Summarize Subjects (in Japanese)
2. Read Through a Text with a Teacher (in Japanese)


Paraphrase Paragraphs and Summarize Subjects (in Japanese)

This is a great exercise to do by yourself!

Select a short text that you’re interested in (or even one you’re not interested in); a blog post or article on a subject that interests you; the news; an interview; a short story, etc.

Read through the text once and make a general note in Japanese of the overall themes/aim of the text.

Then re-read it, but this time write a sentence paraphrasing or summarizing each paragraph—again, in Japanese.

You can spice this exercise up by not looking at a dictionary and summarizing/paraphrasing with what you think the meaning is. Then, go through the text or paragraph again, checking words and grammar and checking you understood the meaning.


It’s important that you attempt this as a Japanese > Japanese exercise for a few reasons:

  • Forced to focus on the Japanese. In other words, you won’t be distracted by translating the text.
  • Fires up the Japanese in your brain. This is a great Japanese language practice for composition as well as reading.

One optional step you can take is, at the end, show your work to a native Japanese teacher, friend, or spouse. Ask them if there was anything you weren’t sure about and have them confirm your findings.


Read Through the Text with a Teacher (in Japanese)

Rather than paraphrasing a text by yourself, then asking a teacher, you could go through the text with a Japanese teacher.

This will likely involve reading the text out loud and summarizing each paragraph on the spot in Japanese to show you’ve understood everything.

Working with a teacher is great because you can work over particularly tricky areas, and ask questions there and then. (This works better with shorter texts.)

Working with teachers like this can be great for focusing on specific aspects of the language you struggle with. It also encourages you to study on a regular basis.

At least for me, I’ve found I have a “work brain” which just processes information and “study brain” that retains information. Engaging both have helped me with both, so I try to keep studying and working with a teacher on a weekly basis.


Note: If you don’t have a native speaking teacher I highly recommend getting one. I know plenty of professional translators who are always brushing up on their second language with the help of teachers.


There you have it! Two simple exercises you can do at home to help hone your Japanese reading comprehension.

Keep an eye out of the rest of the series coming soon! Feel free to follow me on Twitter for more stuff about translation.


Understanding Source Texts – How to Improve Your Translations Skills
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