Help becoming a Japanese->English translator
January 12, 2011 1:52 PM   Subscribe

I would like to become a Japanese-> English translator. What do I need to do? Which certifications really matter? And how can I find work quickly so I can start building a portfolio?

I previously lived in Japan for three years while I was teaching English, and passed JLPT 1. I have done some amateur translation on the internet, but have never done anything professionally. How can I break into paid translation work? I see online there are certain certifications, but which ones do employers seek? Also, is it a big handicap if you only translate one way (J->E but not E->J)? I also see mentions of various types of translation software, which are quite expensive. Are such programs really necessary? I'm also seeking any other jobs requiring Japanese which can be done online, if anyone has any suggestions. I am currently located in the United States.
posted by shoyu to Work & Money (10 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'm also seeking any other jobs requiring Japanese which can be done online, if anyone has any suggestions.

The pay isn't great and this is probably more of a temporary job, but in highschool I occasionally translated x-rated manga for cash. I earned about as much as a McDonald's employee but the hours were flexible and it was good practice.

If you're interested, try to find some translated manga or anime online (probably non-pornographic if you want to put this on a resume), find out who translated/published it, then contact them to see if they need any translators.
posted by ripley_ at 2:05 PM on January 12, 2011

A professional translator I speak to occasionally recommended I subscribe to and read the LANTRA-L mailing list when I was looking into getting into freelance translation. This guy only ever translated into English (from several languages) and I understood that that was par for the course i.e., you translate into your native language unless you are VERY expressive.
posted by mkb at 2:25 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Someone else may reccomend certifications, many translators have none, instead selling based on their experience. It is definately not a handicap translating only into English, in fact most purchasers would not hire an into Japanese translator that was not a native Japanese speaker.

There is software (a good list here) TRADOS is the most popular, check out Across, Deja Vu, MemoQ and Wordfast, that utilizes translation memory to automatically translate sentences which have been previously translated (e.g. earlier in the document, or in a previous document). Some projects may require it, others not (e.g. if you are translating a scanned document you will not use it). Single language freelance versions of Trados are around $100.

Our experience of into English translation from Japanese is that 90% does not utilize a translation memory but then we primarily translate into Japanese from English.

I would register with Proz and start looking at the boards and the jobs posted there.
posted by Disco Moo at 2:40 PM on January 12, 2011

I am a J-E translator, and there's at least one other here on Metafilter.

1. Join the Honyaku mailing list.
2. Attend IJET-22, coming up in May. That is the main schmoozefest for J-E translators. I've met some of my best and most enduring clients at IJETs.
3. Consider attending the ATA conference. It's more expensive and not J-E specific. There are a lot more agencies represented there. I've made some profitable contacts at the few ATA conferences I've been to.
4. Consider joining the ATA (which sponsors IJET) or the ATA (which obviously sponsors the ATA conference). The benefits of membership are not as direct as the benefits of going to a conference where you get to rub elbows with colleagues and get your name and face in front of them. But if you join one of these organizations and take up some kind of volunteer position in them, that's a good way to get your name out.
5. Contact agencies. A lot of agencies will have you do trial translations. If you pass, you're in. Of course, being in just means you're in their rolodex. It doesn't mean you'll actually ever get work from them.

Certification: I do not have any certification. The ATA pushes its certification hard. Their testing is tough, and I think that passing their test is a good indicator of professional competence, but not passing it isn't an indicator of professional incompetence. I've never been denied work for lacking certification, but it's possible that some work was never offered to me because I'm not certified.

Bidirectionality: Very few translators working between Japanese and English can translate in both directions at a professional level, and by no means is being a one-way translator considered a handicap.

Translation Memory tools: I have never used any TM tools except for brief experiments. I was in a seminar at a conference once where an agency guy was saying "if you don't have Trados, we won't work with you." A guy sitting next to me leaned over and said "I don't have Trados and I get a lot of work from them." I can see how for certain kinds of documents, TM tools make a lot of sense, but A) there's a learning curve to get started with them; B) there's ongoing overhead to use them; C) a lot of the big agencies rely on your use of TM to pay you less (they don't pay for matching text, or pay a fraction of their normal word rate).

Finally, you didn't ask, but I'll mention it. Being good at two languages doesn't automatically make you a good translator: translation is a skill unto itself. There's another aspect to being a good translator: field-specific knowledge. Commercial translation is always about something, and you need to have some understanding of what it is about, the jargon used in that field, etc.
posted by adamrice at 2:42 PM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

In general, it's preferable for translators to be native speakers of the language they're translating into, and very fluent speakers of the language they're translating out of.

Unless the job is very basic (I have done some English -> French for things like instruction manuals, frex), employers ideally want people translating into their native language, so you're unlikely to be considered for English -> Japanese. The only people who routinely do two-way translation are people who really are bicultural, so it's not like you're going to have to fight for gigs against lots of people who are truly native-fluent in both; it's hardly expected, even in more common language pairs like English and French and Spanish and Portuguese.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:31 PM on January 12, 2011

Previously in this thread, adamrice said what I was going to say (although I can't comment about Trados).

I really wonder what the market is like for J>E translation these days. Anecdotally, I've heard from at least two Honyaku members (which adamrice links to above) that their business has declined considerably over the past couple of years due to the recession.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:53 PM on January 12, 2011

Lots of good advice above. A few thoughts:

I can't envision working without a CAT tool. Even for PDFs, if at all possible, I try to OCR so I can work with a CAT. Trados is the most commonly used in the industry, but it's expensive. WordFast is not cheap but certainly less of a hit that Trados, and it's quite popular and can be used for most situations once you know a little about the file formats and which types are cross-compatible with Trados users and which types are not. There's a free online version of WordFast known as WordFast Anywhere, which is actually not a half-bad tool. It's pretty pared down compared to expensive, full-featured CAT software, which may be a good thing if you're just getting started and want to figure out what the heck a "translation memory" or a "segment" is.

Join, read the message boards, ask questions, follow the terminology question boards, continue to do amateur/volunteer translation, read some books (including ones that address the business of translation, like Corrine McKay's "How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator", and ones that address the work of translation--theoretical approaches and problem-solving in actual translation). Once you feel a little better oriented, go ahead and spring for a paid membership at Proz, put together the best profile and CV you can, and start bidding on jobs/submitting your CV to agencies. Lack of experience can be a difficult hurdle to overcome for a while, but as they say, everyone has to start somewhere.
posted by drlith at 6:50 PM on January 12, 2011

I am a project manager at a major translation agency in New York. I answered a similar question previously, and it may help you as well.

What everybody else is saying is correct: you will never be considered a translator into Japanese. Most agencies have a policy of using only native speakers into a language - this rule is only bent for more obscure languages, where native English speakers fluent in that language are difficult to find.

Trados is definitely the standard, and we work exclusively with it. While TMs (translation memories) are generally compatible across different platforms, due to the way the different programs segment the text, this is only really true in theory. If you are not ready to invest in software, consider starting out as an editor.

If you've actually never done this professionally, and are thinking of making it your full-time job, I suggest you read my answer to the previous question that I linked to. There are likely to be certain issues that you haven't really thought about, like the fact that you will be a freelancer (do you have any savings? you'll need it for the first 2-3 years when you're not actually making any money), or that, in essence, professional translation is tedious, mechanical work (contracts, financial statements).

You can MeMail me if you have any specific questions.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 6:55 PM on January 12, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for their answers!

I am most curious about how you get that first assignment. So it seems the best way is through volunteer translation or through an agency?
posted by shoyu at 11:54 AM on January 13, 2011

You can probably get some project work through if they are currently recruiting translators.
posted by ejoey at 11:09 AM on January 19, 2011

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