There is a lack of comprehensive educational programs for Japanese to English translators. The vast majority of programs available are post-graduate degrees or evening classes for professionals. Which is all well and good if you already live in the city where those classes are held.
If you’re interested in the niche market of media translation, then you’ll be even more pressed to find a school that offers courses in creative translation and localization. Even more so if you’re interested in Japanese to English media translation.
There is one school, however, that caught my eye in recent years which might be the answer to many aspiring Japanese to English entertainment translators—the Japan Visualmedia Translation Academy (or JVTA).
I interviewed two JVTA graduates to find out more about the school and what they offer.
What is the Japan Visualmedia Translation Academy (JVTA)?
The JVTA is a translation school that claims to prepare people for work as professional Japanese-English visual media translators, with a focus on a freelance career. The school is based in Tokyo but all its classes are held online, meaning anyone from around the world can take their classes.
The JVTA offers two courses, a comprehensive visual media class and a professional visual media class. (These classes are offered for Japanese to English and English to Japanese translation.) There are also supplementary courses such as creative writing (for Japanese and English).
Each course consists of twenty-one 140-minute lessons (a total of 49 hours) over 6 months with a personal consultation at the end. Classes start in April and October.
Once you complete one of their translation courses and pass their translation trial you also have the opportunity to work with JVTA’s translation agency, the Media Translation Center (MTC).
Comprehensive J-E Visualmedia Translation Course (6 months)
The comprehensive course says it teaches you the basics of visual media translation covering film, television, anime, manga, video games, and more.
“While subtitling makes up the majority of the assignments, the course also covers voiceover, manga, corporate videos, entertainment-related text translation, and much more.”
This course is also split into 8 beginner classes and 13 advanced classes.
Cost: 253,000 JPY
Professional J-E Visualmedia Translation Course (6 months)
The professional course says it focuses on real-life jobs you might come across in the profession, based on translation requests JVTA received through their translation agency.
“We select material and genres that accurately reflect current market trends to prepare you to start working immediately as a professional after the course.”
Cost: 231,000 JPY
You’re required to have a good understanding of written and spoken Japanese (JLPT N2), as well as native-level English, but no translation experience is needed.
All the classes are taught by a range of professional translators, but there is no single teacher who will be present for all the classes.
What are these courses really like?
I talked to Krissy and Jennifer Waldman about their experiences at the JVTA.
We learned about different media translations from manga, business, documentaries, subtitling and dubbing. We also learned about marketing, subtitling software, and spotting. They also taught us about the importance of research, leaving notes, and how to fine tune them.
We also spent a lot of time learning about things I thought were only relevant for film studies, such as character development, character drive, plot, etc. While I didn’t think it was important before, I realized over time that a lack of understanding of the story can negatively impact your translations.
Each lesson was structured based on a particular topic. We did everything from manga and anime to documentaries, reality tv shows to dramas and film, and corporate videos to voiceovers. Each lesson’s contents were different and each teacher was different, with some overlap here and there.
There were other types of lessons for building other types of skills, such as how to do spotting, translating film festival catalogues, story analysis, effective English writing, and professional skill for freelancers.
These lessons were typically taught twice, sometimes more (with different assignments and content built in) once in the comprehensive course and once again in the professional course to build upon the skills we gain throughout both courses.
We also learned quite about the inner workings of the industry, the timings at which translations take place in regards to production, intellectual property, what makes a translation/localization good, and recommended resources from the teachers.
How did they grade you?
They were strict about the translation guide and the character limit, and they graded us on each weekly assignment. At the end of the course, you will get a comprehensive graded report evaluated based on several criteria.
At the end of each course, we have a meeting with someone from JVTA to discuss how we did in the course, what we can improve, and what we did well. I believe they take the average score of how each of the teachers grade us
The criteria were, the ability to interpret the Japanese accurately, English expression, ability to interpret the contents accurately, translation ability, business correspondence, and how well the student researches/gathers research on the text.
What did you find particularly useful?
I loved that we were learning from professionals in different fields, and the majority of the classes were discussion-based, so it didn’t feel like a school.
Oftentimes, there were lines I struggled with where I couldn’t come up with a good translation, so one thing that helped me the most with this course was seeing my peers’ translations on each assignment. They gave me a better perspective on how to better translate and think outside the box, and it was also a relief to know when they struggled with the same lines. So I appreciated that they made us evaluate everyone’s translations and not just our own.
Since I started JVTA with no experience, I found the courses overall very useful. I always had the idea that I wanted to become a visual media translator since I was very young, but I didn’t know anything about the ins and outs nor the industry itself going it. It was a good starting point for me.
Having a variety of teachers who have extensive background in translation/localization very helpful. Each teacher was very passionate, eager to discuss what they knew based on their experiences, and were happy to ask questions whether they fell into the realm of the class or working as a translator in general. Most of the teachers gave feedback as well, which was quite useful. However, because there are so many teachers in the courses, there are occasional discrepancies or mismatches in advice in what some of the teachers tell us.
The class is set up by first receiving a particular segment of a film, show, etc., translate it, turn it and, and then submit it a couple of days before the class. Then, we are able to see parts of, or sometimes the whole depending on the class size, of everyone’s assignments and discuss with the students and the teachers what worked well and what didn’t. For me, this was probably the most useful part of the course as we were able to see each other’s work and learn from them.
Was there anything you thought wasn’t as useful?
One thing I didn’t find useful at first was the teaching style. For each assignment, it felt like we were thrown into the water and told to swim. Then after figuring it out, they would congratulate us on floating, but told us that’s actually not how you swim. It was frustrating at first because I felt like if I had the assignment after the class, then I would have done much better. But after a while, I got used to it and had the tools I needed to succeed without feeling lost.
One thing I didn’t find particularly useful was the occasional addition to an assignment where we would be asked to watch a Japanese movie and either summarize it, or write about the motivation of the main character. I felt like it was something we could have probably been asked to do outside of class or instead of taking time to talk about it in class, have those as separate small writing assignments and get feedback on those.
Do you feel better equipped to work as a translator?
Yes! One major skill JVTA taught me is to have confidence in myself and my translations.
For several months I was battling with impostor syndrome, and I never felt like my translations were good enough. But a particular lecturer said something that stuck with me. They said, “If you’re not confident in your translations, then it’s going to reflect in your work. You’re already a great translator, and with the work I’ve seen, anyone would be happy to work with you.”
After hearing this and other lecturers praising my translations, I let go of my self-doubt, and that’s when I really felt my translations shine. And for the first time, I felt confident in my work.
Of course, JVTA taught me several skills that made me feel better equipped as a translator, but honestly, I wouldn’t have gotten where I am now without believing in my own work.
Since I came into JVTA as a complete newbie, I would say I feel better equipped to work as a translator. Coming in not knowing really anything about the industry and really getting a lot of practice with various types of visual media.
I think like a lot of new translators, there’s still a lot of nervousness and uncertainty especially not having actual work in translation yet, but having some experience to back it up has been a great process.
Being able to look back on my work and seeing where I am now with how my translations are turning out, how my time efficiency has increased, and how I’ve grown as a translator has really boosted my confidence compared to when I first started.
Would you recommend this course to other aspiring translators?
Absolutely. Everyone at JVTA is super helpful and friendly, and they equip you with the skills needed to work as a professional translator. The course was a bit intense, especially while working full-time, so I only recommend it to those who are self-motivated and can commit to submitting weekly assignments.
I also recommend this course for people who want to explore different types of translation. I was surprised that I particularly loved working on subtitles, but I will probably never touch medical translations ever again.
If like me, aspiring translators really wanted to become translators but have no idea where to starts, or even translators who are just starting out and don’t have much confidence in their abilities yet, and they can afford it, I would recommend JVTA.
Just like with many professions, there are many different starting points, whether it’s JVTA, going to higher education for translation, fan subbing, finding mentors, etc., and it’s really about finding which starting point is best for you.
I really liked how the classes were structured, which is why I decided to study at JVTA, but that structure may not be for everyone. I would describe it almost as a “fast track” because of the feedback we get from veteran translators and it’s the time to make mistakes on the way to becoming a translator before taking paid jobs. It’s a good entryway into the industry.
The online classes of the JVTA over 6-12 months, combined with group feedback and professional guidance appears to be worthwhile for aspiring translators. If you’re a complete beginner then it’s probably worth checking out one of their open day events.
I’m personally not a fan of the method of “make students translate and then have them work it out themselves” type of teaching. This was the method used for my MA and I found the lack of basic stills training to not be worth it. But it appears the JVTA at least has professional teachers who provide guidance and advice to supplement the translation exercises, and that students learn the skills they need as they go along.
I think if you’re serious about a career in Japanese to English translation working in the entertainment industry, but are looking for higher education, then this is a more affordable alternative to a Masters Degree, which can be anything from $20,000+ for 1-2 years.
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