Spoiler Alert: NONE!
But read on if you’re interested in why…
Do I Need a Degree?
A Brief History in Translation Studies
Translation as a field of academic study seemed to emerge in colleges and universities around the 1950s. Initially there was a pull between translation being a linguistic or literary field.
During that time theories of equivalence sprang up. Focusing on what it means to translate between languages. Equivalence in words? Syntax? Meaning?
These ideas then evolved and in the 1980s the concept that translation is an action with a specific intention, and focused more on target audience rather than equivalence to the source text.
Modern translation studies now looks at how translation is a product of culture, both in its source text and target, and the balance between these two.
Is this interesting? Yes!
If you’d like to learn more I strongly suggest The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation, which combines theory and practical application and Japanese-English translation practice.
But does a translator need to know this in detail? Heck no!
A degree does not define nor reflect your skills
as a translator.
A degree of any kind in translation will often be rooted in the Linguistics Department. If they’re a particularly bad MA course (like mine from SOAS, University of London was), then they’ll only bog you down with theory. With little to no practical application and missing out a huge chunk of translation: business sense and making it as a freelancer!
Of course not all degrees are like this. Nikki Graham has a great blog of interviews with people who took further education in various translation degrees. Many of them were well crafted and focused on teaching you how to translate.
There are also non-degree related translation and interpreting courses for professionals, which are more vocational than academic. (And cheaper!)
Sometimes you get lucky and have an amazing teacher who makes everything just click. They are good mentors who can teach you important lessons in translation.
But you still do not need a degree.
(And I’m extending this to general university degree, not just a degree in translation. Your academic achievements do not mean you are a good/bad translator.)
Won’t a degree get you more work
/ make you more money?
Not necessarily! A degree may encourage an employer to give you a chance, but you will often still have to take a translation test.
Whether you’ve studied at University or not, everyone has to take and pass translation tests to be given a chance with an employee.
At the end of the day your skill and drive to improve your craft will determine your success.
However if you are still interested in exploring a degree in translation look at schools on the ATA’s List of Approved Translation and Interpreting Schools.
Do I Need to Have JLPT N1?
I know translators who have JLPT N1, N2, N3, and even N4! Even translators who have never taken the JLPT before.
I personally LOVE the JLPT! It’s been a great motivator for me to study Japanese. It has also helped improve my Japanese skills immensely.
But Japanese ability does not equal translation ability. They are two separate skills.
The JLPT is a sign of your Japanese comprehension ability,
not your skills as a translator.
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test is exactly that. A test designed to check your proficiency in the language.
The exam is structured very similar to Japanese high school and university exams. Which are also not very good reflections of one’s overall abilities.
I know many JLPT N1 holders who cannot speak Japanese well at all. And vice versa, those who are almost fluent in speech but can’t read a book.
Japanese language reading, writing, speaking and listening are all four separate skills that all need a lot of work to get good at. Likewise, translation and interpreting are another additional two skills that can take just as much time to perfect.
If you are interested in becoming a translator don’t “wait” until you have JLPT N1.
Start working on your skills now.
What Do I Need to Know Then?
You need to be willing to learn everything from
everyone around you
and to be constantly improving your craft.
This does not require a fancy degree, or certificate, or credentials of any kind! You can learn how to translate and improve your skills through just translating.
If you’ve never translated before then you can start by picking something short that you want to try and just translate it.
Translating from Japanese to English for Beginners looks at the translation process for a complete beginner.
Knowing how to write well is also important. You can do this with books like The 10% Solution by Ken Rand and The Elements of Style (4th ed.) by William Strunk and E.B. White (for American English). Courses in copywriting and creative writing can also be incredibly helpful!
Keep translating, proofreading your work, and improving your writing.
But more than that…
Learn about the business side of translation.
You can do this through articles in blogs such as Thoughts on Translation.
Or podcasts like Speaking of Translation and Marketing Tips for Translators.
Online seminars/courses like Success by RX.
Or books like How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator by Corinne McKay.
You don’t need a fancy degree or a JLPT certificate. They (often) can’t hurt, but you don’t need them.
But do have a thirst for knowledge and drive to improve yourself.
Learn everything you can from your colleagues, fellow translators and editors.
Read books, listen to podcasts, take part in online seminars, and go to panels and talks.
You never stop learning when you’re in the translation business.
Other Useful Articles
Book Recommendations for Japanese English Translators
How to Become a Japanese Translator
What a Course in Translation Studies Should Include