Video game translators don’t just need to be good at translating, they need to be good at communication, empathy, curiosity, and so much more to be able to have long-term successful careers.

While part 1 of What Skills Do I Need to be A Game Translator looked at the hard skills used specifically in the act of translating, part 2 looks at these soft skills.


Part 2: Soft Skills

Knowing Your Boundaries

This is difficult when you’re starting out, especially if you’re starting as a freelancer, because you feel the need to say yes to everything. But it’s important to know your boundaries as a translator.

This includes knowing when you work best in the day (morning? night? varied?), separating work-time and home-time, giving yourself weekends and days off (you need breaks to avoid burnout!), being able to negotiate (or say no!) to unreasonable requests (like post-editing machine translation), knowing how much you can work in a day, knowing how much money you’re worth and need to make.

As I mentioned, knowing your boundaries can be difficult when you’re starting out, and even freelance translators who have done it for years can struggle with this.

Whether you’re an aspiring or professional translator it helps to be mindful of your work and health and think about your boundaries and what you can do to maintain those.

I highly recommend the podcast Smart Habits for Translators for lots of great advice on this!

What Skills Do I Need to be A Game Translator? (Part 2: Soft Skills)

Time Management

Time management is most effective when you know your boundaries—knowing when you work best and how much work you can do.

This isn’t just “I need to get this done by this deadline”, but breaking down how much you have to do in a day, fitting that with other projects as well as non-translation related tasks. And, of course, giving yourself time-off and time to yourself on a daily and weekly basis.

Time management is important not just for your work but for your health. It’s incredibly easy to burnout when doing freelance entertainment translation because of low rates and high demands on unreasonable deadlines. Which is why time management and knowing your boundaries is key to a long-term career.

Time Management Tips for Freelance Japanese Media Translators – Article with more details and advice on time management.


Interpersonal Skills

Whether on social media, or in a direct message, in an e-mail, or at an event, first impressions—and general every day impressions—can make a huge difference to whether someone wants to engage with you further or not.

I’m not saying you need to be a people pleaser, or force yourself to be someone you’re not. Even if you’re a quiet introvert, following basic common courtesy, not being an ass, and being your genuine self can go a long way.

This industry is small and being rude, unprofessional, or vindictive can have a unforeseen consequences.


Communication Skills

Interpersonal skills are all about how approachable you are as a person, communication skills are about how understandable you are in your communications.

There is nothing more annoying than working with someone who isn’t clear about their intent or what they want for you. We’re not mind readers!


I find it helps a lot to be as clear about your intent as much as possible. Summarize and clarify what has been decided in writing so that everyone involved is aware of what’s happening.

For example, when I would receive a request for a translation from one of my clients I made sure I replied within 24 hours with confirmation that I got their e-mail along with confirmation of the translation request. I would also either confirm the deadline or a negotiate the deadline if my schedule was already full.


If something comes up that messes up the deadline communicate that as soon as possible! Most project managers are fine with re-negotiating deadlines and schedules. They’d rather know about hiccups early on and not on the day of the deadline.

Having a way to talk to people via voice or video, or even direct message, and including those in your sign off for e-mails or giving as an option to project managers can be great too. Sometimes it’s just easier and faster to communicate things directly rather than through e-mail.

And if there’s nothing wrong, great! But make you you send a reply letting your project manager know you got the text and to confirm when you’ll have it back to them by.

What Skills Do I Need to be A Game Translator? (Part 2: Soft Skills)

Following Instructions

This might seem simple, but you’d be surprised by the number of people who jump straight into translating without reading instructions or style guides.

When you get an e-mail, read the whole thing before you do anything. When you get style guides, read them before you even look at the translation. And when you get reference documents—look at those first!

If you’re unsure of anything send an e-mail or message to your project manager for confirmation.


Being Inquisitive and Curious

Translation becomes incredibly difficult when you don’t understand what’s going on. And I mean this in terms of the act of translating the text and in terms of doing your job. Being inquisitive and curious breaks down into three parts: curious about the source, curious about the translation, and curious about the work.


Curious about the source

Being curious about the source means taking the initiative to conduct research and really understand what’s happening with the text and how it’s being used.

Something might seem off or contradictory, but instead of translating it as-is, following your gut can lead to interesting revelations. Either about the source text or your own translation.

Being curious about the source leads to a better understanding of it, which in turn can lead to a better translation.


Now, sometimes the original text has a mistake in it. That can happen (we’re all human!) So if something in the source text is contradictory or seems like it might be a mistake, politely confirm with whoever is in charge if something in the source is correct.

Of course, you should always try to solve things yourself before you turn to others. This helps you get proof that there might be an issue and it’s not just last of experience/paranoia.

For example, you’re worried the original writers are using two terms for the same thing. Check through all the text and gather all instances where these terms are being used differently. Clarify with the project manager if this is correct and if not, which term is the correct one.


Curious about the translation

Being curious about your translation means taking the extra effort to conduct research behind the correct terms/wording in your target language. This could even be a quick Google search into the definition of a word, or using a thesaurus to see if there’s a more appropriate word for a situation.

It also means double checking your glossary or term base to keep terms consistent, how you worded similar strings to keep phrasing consistent, and checking with your teammates what they think.

If you’re able to work directly with your teammates (other translators, editors, etc.) then it’s always good to have a healthy collaborative relationship. Check with people why they translated things a certain way, or what they think of an edit, and confirm the correct use of terms and phrases. (This is also why communication and interpersonal skills are handy for game localization.)

Honestly, being able to collaborate with great people is one of the things I love about working in games.


Curious about work

Of course it goes without saying that you should be curious about the job itself at various stages throughout the project.

Before you start working make sure you’ve confirmed pay, deadlines, delivery formats, and other important information.

When you’re working on a project, make sure you communicate with your project manager if you’re unsure about the deadline, delivery format, information in the style guide, etc.

After delivery, it can’t hurt to check in if they got your translation, what they thought, if there’s anything else (marketing translation?).


Being inquisitive and curious can go beyond just thinking about what you’re doing. You need to be proactive with researching, asking questions, checking glossaries, and double checking consistency.

Curiosity also leads to the desire to learn, whether it’s about the project you’re working on or the industry as a whole.

What Skills Do I Need to be A Game Translator? (Part 2: Soft Skills)


Empathy is an incredibly useful skill to have as a media translator because it can improve your translation skills and your work.

First, empathy with the characters you’re translating helps you write better characterization. Empathy and sympathy for your characters is something I’ve heard authors talk about when writing novels in English.

Secondly, empathy with the your target audience is key in media translation. The original author(s) wrote for their target audience, but your target audience is of a different culture. Understanding what the audience needs to get the best experience is incredibly important as it can impact your translation.

And finally, you want to have empathy with your coworkers and clients. Understanding what they might be going through and how you can assist or make things easier for them will help your working relationships with others. It could be something as simple as a personable e-mail or message, or adding extra detailed comments and thoughts to help the editor do their job.


Receptive to Feedback

Finally, I think one of the most important soft skills is being receptive to feedback, at all levels of your profession.

It’s annoying to work with someone who’s arrogant and refuses to listen to feedback. It not only has a negative impact on the project but on people’s working relationships too. This goes for all members of a team, not just translators!

Your first instinct to feedback might be frustration (it sure is mine!) Frustration that I might have messed up, or frustration that I think the other person has got it wrong. But before acting on that frustration it’s good to take a step back and think about the feedback. Maybe they’re right and you learn something new. Maybe they’re wrong and you politely point out why that is, or discuss it with them further—maybe there was another miscommunication somewhere.

I’m always learning something new from the feedback of the people I work with, and I welcome their feedback any chance I get.


Soft Skills for Game Translators

Soft skills to be aware of as a translator (although these can easily apply to editors and project managers), is knowing your boundaries, being able to manage your time, interpersonal and communication skills, following instructions while also being inquisitive and curious, empathy, and being receptive to feedback.

These skills are a little harder to “train” compared to hard translation skills but I hope that this will at least give you something to think about as you navigate a career in game translation.

Speaking of, check out part 1 on what translation skills you need to be a game translator, if you haven’t already.


Other articles you might find useful

FAQ for Aspiring Japanese to English Media Translators

What Qualifications Do I Need to Become a Translator?

The Hustle and The Guilt


What Skills Do I Need to be A Game Translator? (Part 2: Soft Skills)
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1 year ago

as a newb to games localization I really like your articles, ty!