Like many second-language students, I am less than happy with my level of Japanese. After years of work, I would consider myself fluent, but still nowhere near the fabled “native level”. Although it seems impressive to my family and others who don’t speak Japanese, to me there are still tons of moments when I don’t understand what’s going on. But dangit, I’ve spent SO. MUCH. time on this, I’d like something to show for it!

It’s All Relative


Photo by Nature And

As it turns out, there are lots of people out there who don’t speak any Japanese at all! So over the summer, I put on my big-girl suit (I don’t remember, it probably wasn’t a suit) and finally managed to convince some poor fool to pay me to translate Japanese for them. By which I mean I went to go talk to the curator of a private collection of samurai armor in my city and tried really, really hard to sound like I knew what I was talking about. I was actually asking for a job… but instead I was asked to translate papers that sometimes came with the armor they purchased (turns out the curator only speaks French).

Now I work a completely separate, full-time job, and every once in a while I get a request to translate documents (mostly auction materials) for this collection, which I do in the evenings. So although I’m getting paid, I’m not sure I would consider myself a professional translator. But since I’m sure there are plenty of Japanese students out there who have something they want to translate (books, manga, song lyrics, whatever), I thought I’d share my approach. I’d also love to hear what other people do, because frankly I’m pretty new at this.

*The collection I translate for will remain nameless for privacy reasons and because I don’t want anybody to steal my job.

Getting Ready To Translate

After dinner, I sit down to work. I open the e-mail, and take a moment to freak out when I can’t read anything on the page. Honestly, these articles should be considered way above my level, but this is the kind of situation where you “fake it ‘till you make it”.

The first thing I have to do is convert the images my client sends me into text. (Standard practice is to charge by the character, so at the very least I need it for an accurate character count). I can try a text-converting program or just type everything up myself, depending on the quality of the image. This time my client has sent me both the image and the converted text (plus a botched Google translation, to remind me that she needs me). I copy and paste the text into a Google Doc and prepare my workspace.

This involves opening several tabs: Google Translator,, and I also turn Rikaichan on in my browser, which is especially useful because I can wave my mouse over any word in the Google Doc to get a definition. If this seems like cheating to you, wait a little while and you’ll see why I don’t waste time on relatively common vocabulary.

1. Rough Draft


Photo by Wess

Remember this: the key is just to get English on the page.

Now that it’s time to actually start translating, I wave my mouse over the first unfamiliar word (unfortunately, it’s the title of the article). Uh-oh. Rikaichan is only defining the individual characters. “Iron earth” is not an acceptable description for a helmet, so I copy and paste the phrase into Google Translator.

Still no good. Jisho and Kotobank don’t give me anything either so I put a star next to this and move on.

I spend 15 minutes trying to find the meaning of 車患 before I look at the original image and realize the text converter has badly misread . This is why you always need to double-check converted text. I go through and correct all of the misread kanji before continuing. (, by the way, is しゃちほこ/shachihoko, a mythical dolphin/whale/fish thing. Nagoya Castle is famous for the two golden shachihoko on its roof).


For the body of the dolphin / in the middle of the back / in iron lacquer / two plates with embossed fish scales / join on the left and right to take form / these scales also serve as mabisashi / and the dolphin’s head / covers a demon’s mask

Unlike English, the Japanese language does not frown upon run-on sentences. I think they would actually rather add modifiers to an existing sentence than make a new one if the subject of the sentence is the same. For this first draft I am trying to stay as close to the original Japanese meaning as possible, so I separate ideas with “/”. Later I will rearrange everything to make more sense with English grammar.

A lot of words I come across are jargon, specific to ancient Japanese armor. They either don’t appear in a Japanese-English dictionary or have a second, more common meaning. That’s when I go to Kotobank, a Japanese-Japanese dictionary, to find the more obscure definition. You can do this even if you still have a lower vocabulary level, because all you have to do is use Rikaichan on words you don’t know.

The key to getting this far is making educated guesses about the meanings you don’t know. If you’re still not sure you understand, you can try a search using the romanization of the word (in this case, マビサシ comes out to mabisashi). You might find something like this:


Number 12 is “Forehead plate – mabisashi (眉庇). Mystery solved! Thanks Wikipedia.

Everything I’ve written about so far has taken place in the first sentence of the text! Granted, it’s a run-on sentence that takes up most of the first paragraph, but you can see why this might take a while. And that was just the first draft–it has English words but makes no real sense in English. Plus, there were several words (I’m looking at you, 鉄地) that I couldn’t translate the first time around. Hopefully they’ll make more sense as I figure out the context that they are written in.

2. Second Draft

An English sentence like the one below isn’t exactly easy to understand:

For the body of the dolphin / in the middle of the back / in iron lacquer / two plates with embossed fish scales / join on the left and right to take form/ these scales also serve as mabisashi / and the dolphin’s head / covers a demon’s mask / on the left and right / large scales and koshimaki boards / are hammered into place with rivets.

This is actually where Google Translate is the most helpful, believe it or not.

Okay, so a key part of Google’s translating algorithm is based off of statistical survey of websites and documents that are written in multiple languages. The algorithm compares the English version with the Japanese (or Spanish, or Arabic) version to see how the words correspond. If, in several different sources, 日本 (nihon) corresponds with “Japan”, then that is how Google will translate it. The program is getting more sophisticated over time, and it can now recognize some common grammatical structures. This means that I can sometimes put a chunk of text into Google translator to see how the grammar is most commonly translated.

I’ll go ahead and use a different (shorter) sentence. Here, “鬼面の眼球には鍍金板が嵌入され” comes out to “Plating plate is fitted to the eye of the devil mask”. Uh… yeah, that doesn’t make sense. But I already figured out in my first draft that “in the eyeball of the kimen (a special armor term) / gilt strips are inlaid”. So now I can write “Gilt strips are fitted to the eye of the kimen”. That makes sense, right? This isn’t a foolproof method, but as one of several references, it can be helpful. I go through the whole first draft like this, to get a working English version. Sometimes I do a third draft as well.

3. Cleaning Up


Translating is more of an art than a science. The articles I translate need to be functional, because my client is trying to understand more about the piece of armor. There may be phrases I don’t understand (what the heck is 鉄地?!) and I need to come up with a reasonable guess. In the case of 鉄地 I decide to ignore the (chi, earth) character because I thought “iron helmet” was more to the point, and “iron earth helmet” would have just been confusing. If I’m particularly concerned about something, I’ll include “Notes” in my translation. For instance, once a passage had several typos, including a wrong date and a wrong location. I translated the information as it was written, and corrected it in the Notes.

As a last resort, sometimes I just have to ask a native speaker of Japanese. There are lots of things I don’t know because I didn’t grow up in Japan, so if I absolutely can’t figure something out myself (whether a given location is, in fact, a typo, for instance) I’ll get in touch with one of my Japanese friends.

Waiting for the moment that you understand absolutely everything perfectly means never using your Japanese. Whether it’s for fun or for profit, it’s a good idea to take chances and use your Japanese, whatever level you’re at. Even if it didn’t have the added benefit of improving your Japanese, it’s rewarding to actually use a skill you’ve worked so hard to get.


Bonus Wallpapers

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  • Aya’s Father

    Laura? Are you the new FuguEmployer?

    P.S. Pretty awesome tips for translating Japanese. Fake it till you Make it! Are you a Sociology and Economy major?

  • Nana

    Nice article! I can totally relate xD

  • April Gutierrez

    Ah ha! It’s nice to know I’m not alone in translating things this way, though my efforts are far less complicated than yours. Btw, I have found both and the text glossing/multi-radical kanji look-up tools at WWWJDIC to be invaluable.

  • Skeen

    If you cant find a dictionary entry for a word like 鉄地, then simply enter into google images. Its the handgaurd on a Japanese sword.
    I also have done some translation work far above my level, it was for a pipeline company I was doing an internship for (got it through people I knew) while I was studying at a language school in Japan. There was a lot of pipe line jargon and a lot of extreme run on sentences with like 4 or more breaking commas, but I used a lot of the techniques you used and it came out quite well. The only thing is that its a very slow process compared to someone who is more fluent.

  • Christopher Alvarez

    Nice article! Can we also take a moment to admire the illustration work Aya did for this!? So much detail & even an animated gif. wallpaper :)

  • missingno15

    I think “fake it until you make it” works in most cases unless it so happens that you’re in a political situation. Then you can’t afford to mess up or else it might cause an international crisis.

    Nice article about translating. I would do something similar by running words I don’t know in google and do the research. Even then, putting it in natural English is just as difficult so I feel you.

  • Guest

    Very nice article.

  • nia

    Very nice article with great message.
    I do a lot of pretending-I-know-it-but-I’m-really-just-good-at-googling thing too. Weblio’s 和英辞典 is pretty damn helpful for me (, it frequently goes with example sentences, including examples from books or other sources, what makes them really random and (sometimes) quite helpful. And of course, you go around all kinds of places (websites) trying to make sure “do people really say so or is it just made up??”, reading blog entries that use that word, watching videos on YouTube… Translation really broadens your horizons, especially when you have no idea what you are doing.
    Also, it works just for everyday lame-conversation but I remember relying much on Japanese people asking for English translation on the internet, if there is no info other way around.

  • Mami

    Nice work Laura! I don’t even know what 眉庇 or 鍍金板 or other words mean, so I need your tips to find out too❤ I mean, those words from ancient period are not familiar with many Japanese people either. I’m really proud of you finding the meanings for such words!

    A translation tip I may suggest it breakdown words into two sometimes. For example, 鯱 was translated mythical dolphin, but it’s often said a mythical corp and 鯱(しゃち) by itself means a killer whale. The kanji 鯱 is usually pronounced しゃち, but is sometimes used for しゃちほこ, which is also written 鯱鉾(しゃち+ほこ). 鉾 is an ancient spear and has been used just as a charm to get rid of evil spirit in a festival of ceremony since Heian period. Then, you get the idea why 鯱 was adorned on. (for good luck). 鉾 is the words still used pretty commonly for festivals.

    And, maybe looking at other meanings of kanji may help you, too. For example, 地 doesn’t only mean earth but material such as ‘clothe texture’ (布地/生地)/cotton clothe(綿地) or even dough ‘生地’. It will lead you to 鉄地-兜 means iron material helmet!(๑❛ᴗ❛๑)♡

    Again, great article and great work with all the difficult words!! ❤

  • lazuli is also a useful resource^^

  • Christopher Stilson

    My translation method is pretty similar to this, although less systematic (fortunately, I’m not trying to get paid for it). If I don’t know the character or compound, I finger-write it into the ‘Japanese’ app on my iPhone (the handwriting recognition function got a LOT better in the last year, so this is actually practical – before that, I had to do it with components and stroke counts). If I do know the character, I just transcribe it straight into Google Translate (usually I’ve memorized the wrong reading for the character, so the fact that Google gives the correct reading for a word is very helpful). Once I’ve transcribed the whole sentence, I sit and stare at it for a few minutes while my brain digests it, sometimes splitting it up into individual components (cutting on commas, particles, or individual words if that doesn’t work) until I think I’ve made sense of what the sentence is supposed to mean. Then I go to my document and write out an English sentence that says more or less the same thing: I’ll try to stick to the source material as closely as I can, but if there’s an English phrase or idiom that does the job as well or better, I’ll use that. I got stuck once on a particular passage that used some pretty obscure slang (so obscure that three native speakers told me ‘umm… it’s something vaguely dirty, but we don’t know exactly how because we’ve never heard of this word before’), so I had to rewrite an entire extended joke with just my best guess.

    Unfortunately, this means that I can’t submit the two light novels I’ve translated to most fan-translation sites, since they have silly rules about being as literal as possible and ‘not changing nouns’ (even if the original uses the exact same descriptive phrase in three consecutive sentences, a big no-no in English: this makes the content of those sites very dull reading, the main reason why I prefer to do my own translating in the first place. There are only so many times you can read 大刀 translated as ‘long sword’ when just ‘sword’ would be quite sufficient before you start to grind your teeth. And then there are the sentence fragments: ‘Shampoo hat’ is just not a complete sentence in English…).

    One thing that I find very useful about Google Translate over just my dictionary is that it will frequently pick up on slang and colloquialisms that the dictionary form doesn’t cover. I also used to use to break down sentences until I decided it was easier to just wing it.

  • J RAD

    I’ve been studying Japanese since high school and I was wondering if I could cross the thresh hold into translating text soon– lot’s of great advice!

  • Tora.Silver

    “Fake it till you make it” probably isn’t the best advice for doctors either.
    “Yes, the patient needs 780 cc’s of… Flaberschetsum. It’s the only way he’ll recover from this routine physical.”

  • Laura

    Thank you! Yes, I’m one of several new writers. I actually majored in Mathematical Economic Analysis and Asian Studies, but I’d like to get my PhD in Behavioral Economics.

  • Laura

    You can probably do it right now, if you don’t mind going reeeeaaaally slowly. It’s kind of fun looking everything up, like doing a really difficult crossword puzzle! I turn the TV on while I work but a lot of times I couldn’t tell you what happened in the show.

  • Laura

    Wow, that really is helpful! Even they don’t have 鉄地 though. Augh!

  • Laura

    Thanks! I used ‘dolphin’ mostly because that’s what the しゃち were translated when I visited Nagoya Castle, the “golden dolphins”.

    I thought 地 might refer to ore, but material makes more sense. Either way I think only calling it “Iron Helmet” is the best English translation, because in English the “material” would be implied. Thanks for the lesson though, this is really interesting!

  • Christopher Stilson

    I started translating after just a year of learning kanji and a short course on grammar. As long as you’ve got the right tools and the time to work, it’s not really that difficult, and it can lead to some pretty fast improvement: I translated my first 300-page novel in about five months, the second in two and a half (I doubt I can get it down to five weeks for the third one, but two months is faster than I’ve been able to read some English novels recently).

  • Laura


  • Laura

    That’s a good tip, although in this case the article was about a helmet. You’re right about how slow it is! I just think of it like I’m doing the New York Times crossword puzzle.

  • Joel Alexander

    I’ve found myself doing a translation for a drama series (before you start looking at me quizzically, no money is changing hands). I’ve been following a similar procedure to you (though since I’ve gotta match timing and what’s happening on-screen, I’ve got a few more restrictions on being able to reorder things).

    Already been using Google Translate, Denshi Jisho and Imiwa, but some of these other resources mentioned should come in handy. =)

  • Laura

    That text-glossing tool looks amazing, and slightly overwhelming! I’ll have to add that to my “workspace”.

  • Laura

    *grammar correction
    That’s what the しゃち were called when I visited Nagoya Castle.

  • Allyson Larimer

    Best Resource EVER for translators! I have been using it for years.

  • Grecia Félix

    I really needed to read something like this, THANK YOU! it is a great article :D

  • Allyson Larimer

    I have been translating professionally (in-house at a Japanese automotive manufacturer) for 4 years now and I really find the Japanese resources more useful than the American ones. I tend to use alc and weblio, which were already mentioned below. Even if the English they give me is a little strange, I get a better grasp of the concept and can choose better wording. I never find the complex legal or manufacturing phrases in Denshi Jisho. Weblio cross-references several different online technical glossaries and legal or medical translation databases. But nothing beats ALC when you want to know what the most common word for something is.
    ALC is also invaluable when you have to translate from English into Japanese. It is really a colloquial phrase dictionary.
    Still, my method is pretty much the same as your’s. Keep up the good work!

  • NelemNaru

    Quote: “so the fact that Google gives the correct reading for a word is very helpful”

    I question how accurate Google’s readings are. For example, it says “5人” is go-ri (although playing the audio gives the correct reading of go-nin)

  • Laura

    That’s actually really encouraging to hear! Thank you!

  • Laura


  • Laura

    Wow, that’s great! Actually one problem I have when reading Japanese is that I read English really fast, and I can find the relatively slow pace of reading Japanese prohibitively frustrating. That’s been getting a lot better since I started translating. You’re definitely right about fast improvement!

  • chris in tokyo

    THIS IS SO TRUE. Oh man I was dying reading this article. This is so close to home its ridiculous

  • Akira Uchimura

    My favorite resource for Japanese-English translations.

    For other languages I also use

  • Ragan

    To be fair to yourself, you seem to be translating some pretty difficult stuff! Even people who do speak at a native level probably would not know all the armour terms you do. I’m sure your Japanese is better than you give yourself credit for. Thanks for the article!

  • alpaca lover

    greetings laura and readers! :)

    this is a really enlightening post!

    i’ve been studying japanese myself for the past one year, and i’ve been translating interviews to learn! but because my japanese is really basic, i turn to a lot of tools like wwwjdic and google translate! what i normally do is that i snap a photo of the text and upload it to google translate on my phone and i start translating from there. here are problems i’ve been encountering:

    1) when the sentences are vertical instead of horizontal, google translate just doesn’t work!! is there a text converting program that’s good out there?
    2) i’m still really bad with japanese particles :/ there’s lack of sites with a huge list of particles and sample sentences…

    i really hope someone out there can help me with this! i’ve been struggling but i think this is the best way for me to learn as i’ve picked up so much from translating these interviews (for my own read) :D

    please and thank you!

  • Laura

    Thank you! But I wouldn’t say I know the armor terms that well–I pretty much have to look them up again every time!

  • Laura

    I’m glad to hear you say that, because in my head I’m just like “How do REAL translators do this?”

  • ibarocky

    japanese version of engrish lol

  • Ramon Coutinho

    Thanks very much for the article, very interesting. What about wordfast program, does anyone has experience with this or other translation computer program?

  • Laura

    1) In a similar vein, I get a lot of grainy images that don’t convert well or at all. I haven’t found a really good (free) converter yet. On those occasions I often type it out by hand and look up unknown kanji with a radical-based search like on It can be really time consuming, but the slow pace can help you absorb the kanji better, and it’s never a bad idea to get really familiar with radicals.
    2) Kodansha has a book called “A Dictionary of Particles” that may help, if you can find it.

    Keep working at it! It’s definitely a great way to learn, but there are slow and frustrating parts. I think after enough interviews and examples you’ll find you develop a feeling for it, even if you can’t recite specific grammar rules.

  • alpaca lover

    hello laura! thanks for the reply!

    :) it certainly is a great way to learn, and i agree that you’ll develop a feeling for it although not being able to recite specific grammar rules! i started off with lyrics and now i’m slowly moving on to interviews… i get stuck a lot but i have japanese friends that are willing to help me! but i’d like to not depend on them so much…

    thank you so much for the tips! :D i’ll be on the lookout for the dictionary. <3

  • candy javier sakai

    frm my ecperience since i am living here for almost half of my life is feel the culture & the girlies are half thats why I had tht chance to learned more katana,hiragana,kanji with them as they grow up & thier teacher in school is very cooperative too.thats what i am very happy for……by translating before ,I only used a dictionary since back then internet sources are limited & spoke to the natives.Now,dnt hve any problems at all.btw,i speak also 5 languages too.Thank s to the world of internet now for that…

  • Loek van Kooten

    Professional translator (Japanese-Dutch) here with 18 years of experience. I don’t think anyone blames you for looking up certain words. Every translator does that, and it’s okay as long as you know how to use a dictionary. What is not okay is just skipping characters and words because you assume they’re not important anyway. That is fraud. You must change that attitude if you want to continue this job: do not rest until you’ve turned every stone and are absolutely sure that the translation you jotted down is the correct translation. Today it may be a museum pamphlet, tomorrow it may be the manual of a medical device and lives will depend on it. Do not underestimate this profession.

  • Karina

    Where do you guys find these translator jobs?

  • Marcela Rizzo

    By acting professionally and not accepting material that is way above their level…

  • Laura

    You are absolutely right, and I should have made myself clearer. The example I used was for the curator’s use in evaluating a potential purchase and was very time sensitive. I explained my difficulty in translating it in my “Notes” section, as I ALWAYS do whenever I have trouble with a word or phrase, because you are right, I am no judge of what is or is not important. I try to make sure the curator has enough information to judge that for herself. I apologize if you feel I treated that aspect of the work too cavalierly in the article.

    I’m actually not sure what a professional translator would do in the case of excessive ambiguity, so I made this method up myself. If you believe there is a better way to handle it, please let me know!

  • Loek van Kooten

    Fair enough! Yes, contacting the client directly or leaving a note is the way to do it.

  • Christopher Stilson

    Sometimes they’re wrong. Sometimes they also produce a different reading each time the same phrase is used, as well. And occasionally they’re more accurate than the furigana in the book (in the one I just finished, the editor had used the wrong furigana for an author’s name, which made looking up the work that was being referenced somewhat difficult until I looked underneath the text entry box on Google and went ‘oh’).

  • Rose Newell

    I am a bit shocked by this article. I translate from German, not Japanese, but the same rules of professionalism apply in any language combination. Simply put, we don’t accept work for what we are not qualified and we don’t find simple cheats and omit anything we don’t understand. You’ve just nailed the coffin in any professional translation career you may have had in mind… I’d feel a bit mortified in your position. But okay, you’re not a professional translator, and perhaps you don’t want to become one. Even then, it still baffles me why you’d expose what a fraud you are and encourage others to do the same. You may be translating historical armour, but what about those translating present-day armour? Weapons? Medicines? And so on… People who take this approach can in every case cost businesses significant amounts of money – not to be scoffed at in a recession – and in the worst cases, mistakes can cost lives. To promote an unprofessional approach to translation is not just silly for you as an individual, but it is downright dangerous and irresponsible.
    All that said, there are others out there entrusting this to machines or people who don’t put in the slightest second of research… so however bad I feel your practices are, I am also aware this is the tip of the iceberg.
    Anyway, good luck… I hope you’re able to delete this article eventually. It won’t look good on your online record for any job, to be honest.

  • Rose Newell

    Me? By being a professional and not faking it. Clients looking for professionals will find them.

  • Tanya Quintieri

    How you translate *professionally* without proficient language skills??? I’m with Rose, 100% – although she found so much nicer words than I would have. Your approach is by no means professional and it’s people like you who harm a decent profession. There is no shortcuts or cheats to professional translations. Mind you the fact that you’re not showing any kind of respect for the education that professional translators went through. Should we start messing around in your future business and call our approach professional? This is nothing against you personally. I just hope that you and your readers (who find this so helpful in regards to unprofessional “professional” translations) realize that you’re labeling something “professional” when it’s not and personally I hope that it’s simply because you don’t know any better. Am I upset about what you wrote? Yes! Am I mad at you personally? No. Do we face these kind of offenses (that’s what I call them) every day? Sadly enough: yes! It doesn’t matter what the translation was about or for what it was intended. It’s just not right, especially in this case where you label it professional. Because it is not. For all the reasons stated by the folks who commented before I did. I wish you all the best, from the bottom of my heart. But please don’t call it professional.
    Take care, Tanya
    A professional translator and proud of it! #proudxl8 (

  • gohomeloser

    J-E translator for over 25 years, translation manager for 15.

    a) If you’re using Rikaichan and Google Translate…you ain’t translating, honey.

    b) You are the translation industry equivalent of the asshole auto mechanic that screws over the client that doesn’t know enough about cars to know he’s being ripped off. Did you tell the client upfront that you you wouldn’t be able to read ‘anything on the page’? I doubt it – no, the client thought he was hiring a professional translator – key word there being *professional*, as in ‘an expert or specialist in the field, someone that turns in high quality work, someone that acts with integrity or displays a high sense of professional ethics in their practice. What they got was a charlatan, a fraud – someone brazen enough to brag about getting paid from unsuspecting clients as they ‘fake’ their way through the ‘work’. Cry caveat emptor all you want; this isn’t information asymmetry it’s unethical at best and borders on outright fraud:

    You said that it was a ‘very time sensitive’ job, and that you struggled with it. Well, great – the curator gets back a sub-par translation, notes from the translator basically saying ‘gosh this was really hard, I couldn’t read anything on the page!’….but because it was time sensitive now he doesn’t have time to ask a real translator to take a look at it. So he’s stuck having to make a purchase decision based on your sub-par work. Quite frankly there’s no way you should have accepted actual money for this job..

    c) Your so-called ‘fake’ translation career will last right up until a client realizes that the translation you turned in was rubbish. Good luck getting work when word gets around you’re a crap translator. And trust me – it will get around.

    d) But of course, the best part of all is that you probably spent the better part of a day – if not longer – on what should have been a 45-minute job. Given hourly wages, you’re probably far, far better off wearing a funny hat and asking the customer if they’d like to supersize it.

    e) Translating when you’re still not confident in your ability is completely meaningless if you’re not getting feedback. I don’t care how long you work at ‘faking it'; if you never get feedback you will always – and I mean always – be a crap translator.

    If you really want to develop skills as a translator but don’t feel confident in your ability, your best bets is to find some translation-related work at your current job, or maybe even tell a prospective client you’ll work for free if they give you feedback,

  • Carly Born

    I do a bit of translating and interpreting on the side, mostly for martial arts events. I almost never get paid for my efforts, mostly because I don’t feel like a professional translator and I feel an obligation to share knowledge with people who really want it. However, my experience has shown me that context and subject matter knowledge is crucial. Since I have training in a couple of martial arts (significant in one, less in others), I am often in a better position than the hired professional to interpret for a budo training or lecture event. But I recognize very much that my knowledge and abilities in this are very subject-specific, and I avoid getting roped into interpreting for anything outside of my comfort zone.

    I completely identify with the run-on sentence problem! Hanshi sensei who are trying very hard to teach anyone (but gaijin specifically) can go on and on in great detail about their point without ever including a verb!! It’s an amazing talent, really.

  • gohomeloser

    > I am often in a better position than the hired professional to interpret for a budo training or lecture event.

    This is complete and utter bullcrap.

    You know what the difference is between you and, say, some martial arts sensei with 40 years of experience teaching in your specialist area but with zero Japanese language ability?


    All the specialist knowledge in the world is useless if your Japanese is – as you admit – not up to par.

    This may shock some people here, but while subject-specific knowledge / experience / background can be critically important, the job of a professional interpreter or translator first and foremost requires *professional-level* language ability. Shocking, I know.

    A professional translator may be able to learn enough about their subject manner on the fly to turn in an acceptable translation. You’re not learning enough Japanese on the fly to do the same.

  • les piles

    I’m a professional translator today, but I guess I’ll try “faking it ’till I make it” in some other professional branch tomorrow. Surgery, perhaps? Or law? Please, please, choose a job you’re actually good at.

  • Huitième Passager

    Why am I hoping that some day you’ll have a fake plumber or fake plastic surgeon messing with your bathtub or your face? Maybe because I trained hard to become a *real* professional translator.

  • Noiram

    As some of my colleagues already said, translation is an actual profession – not a lucrative hobby. Believe it or not, some people even go to college to study it! So please, have a little respect for us professional translators, and do not accept such work if you don’t have the appropriate skills, i.e. if you don’t master the source language, for a start. Or at least, have the courtesy not to brag about it publicly.

  • Rose Newell

    Hard job, isn’t it? Funny thing is we really do manage it. Every day. We charge good money for it, too. That is what “professional” translation is.

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    Quoting you on: “the translation you jotted down is the correct translation”.
    Are you for real? Last time I checked, languages are in a very basic sense points of view (which are constantly changing). How on earth does the idea of correctness apply to a point of view (and thus to a language)? Saussure disapproves. You have correctness in mathematical disciplines and to a certain extent in the hard sciences. But the humanities and the arts don’t qualify to use that word. Why? Because they are disciplines full of subjectivity. Correctness is an objective term. There is not such thing a correct translation just as there is no correct translation of an interpretation of Munch’s The Scream. Unless you are technical translator in the sciences or mathematics, I very much doubt that you can talk in terms of correct and incorrect translations.
    I would suggest “the translation you jotted down is the most suitable to the best of your knowledge”.

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    I love how honest and humble you come across.
    P.S. Plus Koichi liked your comment! :0

  • Loek van Kooten

    Though the “perfect” translation does indeed not exist, I think all readers know very well what I mean with “correct translation” without diving into semantics. For example, translating helmet as say shampoo is not a correct translation, no matter how often your point of view changes. Please don’t use semantics to defend what cannot be defended. You know very well what correct means in this context; don’t pretend you don’t.

  • Catharine Cellier-Smart

    Why don’t you just change the title to “How I Translate UNProfessionally With Imperfect Japanese”?

  • Loek van Kooten

    I do think though that “honest” in this case would have been to tell the client upfront that the articles were way above her level, as she wrote herself. Humble maybe. Honest no.

  • Eline Van De Wiele

    By devoting time to becoming properly qualified before we start masquerading as professionals. By researching, researching and researching some more until we KNOW our translations are correct. BY having enough subject expertise AT THE OUTSET to know when online sources are untrustworthy. By being honest about what we are really capable of.

    And last but not least, by giving a damn about what ends up in front of the client. As a professional JP-EN translator who spent a lot of time and money to get to where I am now, I’d be mortified to hand in a bunch of guesses. That you are happy to do so, and even seem proud of it, shows you still have a looooong way to go before you can consider yourself a ‘professional’. And you know what? It’s not because of your language skills. It’s because of your attitude.

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    Nice. So when you say correct translation you don’t mean “correct translation”. And you ask me not to dive into semantics? Translating “helmet” as “shampoo” does not work…assuming both words are in English and the context is not a piece of poetry or prosopoetry or any other context where semantics gets really fuzzy. Assumptions this big should always be explicitly stated, don’t you think? Just like Laura should have explicitly stated that her taking the job implied accepting that she could successfully tackle it.

    “don’t use semantics to defend what cannot be defended”. I was simply quoting you on a very misguided arrangement of words you used. I am not defending anything, just criticising the quote. Translation in non-technical fields (i.e. outide the sciences and maths) is very fuzzy and the stuff I quoted from your comment does not help. A correct translation does not exist. I don’t know what you mean by “correct translation” so not “ALL readers know very well what you mean”. But some readers might know what you mean. Again coming back to the topic of certainty and correctness. Btw, your last four words come across rude/arrogant.

    P.S. I don’t think Laura would translate technical material in a critical subject (such as medicine or civil engineering) if she felt she could not tackle it. I think that’s exaggerating a bit your point. I understand that you might have felt that your profession was kinda watered down in this post but I don’t think that was Laura’s intention judging from her reply to you. : ]

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    She did not say that she knew that the articles were way above her level before taking up the job. For all we know, she was just doing minor translators even if they were paid. She herself said she did not consider herself to be a professional translator. Also I said “you come across” (see present simple) So she is being honest and she is being humble. How she was back then is not up to you or me to judge.
    Also, putting the translator rage aside, it might be worth remembering that this article is aimed to media translation (presumably not paid). Books, songs, etc.
    P.S. As I said, Laura has been awesome at replying to your rage-filled comment and I think she deserves praise for it even you if you think she should have refused the job on the basis on some fuzzy ethics that play absolutely no role in the job she was doing.
    Love you, Laura! :)
    P.S. Love you too, Loek! I am sue you are just a passionate translator! :]

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    1. She said professionally (i.e. being paid).
    2. She said she did not consider herself to be a professional translator. Reminder: she was looking for a job and she was asked to translate.
    3. This article is aimed at students looking to translate mass media materials.

    How does any of this harm any of you angry translators that feel it okay to criticise Laura on what I see are mainly emotional grounds?
    Stay strong, Laura! #laurafan

  • Eline Van De Wiele

    As I understand it, Laura is encouraging students to lie about their true capabilities in order to get paid as a professional would. Unless I (and the other angry translators) have really got the wrong end of the stick, I assume that her client has no idea she is ‘faking it’ and thinks they are getting a professional service. I don’t think that is acceptable in any profession.

    By all means practice your skills as a student, and get as many gigs as you can. But at least be honest about the fact that you are still essentially a trainee so that the end client knows what they’re getting into.

  • les piles

    1. Oh, I thought the definition of “professional” was something like “characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession”, but that’s probably Merriam-Webster mixing up everything. How silly of me to think words actually matter.

    2. Reminder: she also has a “completely separate, full-time job” now. And I find it hard to find excuses for lying about one’s professional abilities in general.

    3. If someone bragged about “finally manag[ing] to convince some poor fool to pay [them]” to do YOUR job without the required competences, wouldn’t you feel somehow insulted as a professional?

  • Tanya Quintieri

    1. Just as wrong. Not because she’s taking the money that a pro would have earned, but because her client is paying for crap. Period.
    2. If my son were to hit his head really bad and needed surgery, I would not do it, no matter how hard he begged. I’d take him to a surgeon.
    3. Students… aha. Why not take your car to a mass car shop to have students work on your engine? I have plenty of more examples on hand – but you get the point I presume?

  • DGbg

    Hope you are not going to ‘wing’ the research on that too!! Skills and a great logical mind you have, respect from the professional translation world you definitely do not!

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    “Laura is encouraging students to lie about their true capabilities in order to get paid as a professional would.”
    That is factually incorrect, if you read the article again, you will see that in the first bit she mentions her intended audience: Japanese students that want to translate books, manga and lyrics. They might or might not be paid for it but assuming that this payment would equate that of a professional is a bit far-fetched.

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    1. No. Profession-al only means you get paid to do it.

    1. relating to or belonging to a profession:
    Note: if you want a definition, oxford is the way to go. Just a tip. ;)

    2. How is that relevant to the fact that she never considered herself a professional translator?

    3. whether you feel insulted or not depends on your sensibilities. Just because a student got a job she was not totally capable of handling and a job you couldn’t get it shouldn’t make you feel insulted. But I guess it did on you and the other angry translators.

  • DGbg

    I don’t feel the ‘anger’ or ‘rage’ that you comment on whenever you post a supporting comment to the OP. The title states … How I translate professionally … However much you support and defend the OP professional translation it is not. No anger – just calling a spade a spade.

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    1. Oh, so this is the good old “they come here and steal our jobs” rant, uh? :] Unfortunately, not all of us are as financially well-off as you to be in a position of refusing a job. May we see your work so we can admire the absolutely absence of imperfection in your translations? Links, please. :]

    2. Nice, but you still rely on incompetent politicians to do their job, right? To educate your children and give you social welfare benefits when you get old and dependable, right? Where will you go then? Sometimes, a job needs to be done and you just have to summon strength and do it. Given the fact that laura is being regularly called back I would say she is being fantastic. :]

    3. The example is irrelevant. If a car malfunctions the risk is more significant than if a non-technical translation is not appropriate. And Laura is talking about non-technical translations. Your argument is invalid. :]

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    The title might be misleading but the author compensates for that by claryfing the intended audience of this article. :]
    inb4 the translators rage

  • gohomeloser

    Ah, I love the smell of bullshit wrapped in self-righteous semantic hand-waving; it smells like victory.

    Last bastion of the feeble-minded, adored by little men and the unimaginative the world over.

    Also, here’s what you posted earlier:

    > She did not say that she knew that the articles were way above her level before taking up the job.
    > it might be worth remembering that this article is aimed to media translation (presumably not paid)

    Interesting views. Let’s go back and read her article, shall we?

    – Title of the damn article: How I translate with imperfect Japanese.

    – to me there are still tons of moments when I don’t understand what’s going on

    – there are lots of people out there who don’t speak any Japanese at all!
    (translation: So I felt perfectly fine with going out and swindling another non-Japanese-speaking client)

    – (I) tried really, really hard to sound like I knew what I was talking about

    – finally managed to convince some poor fool to pay me to translate Japanese for them

    – (I) freak out when I can’t read anything on the page. Honestly, these articles should be considered way above my level
    (translation: I can’t read worth shit, but Google Translate will do it for me. Profit!)

    And thanks to these quotes, we can lay to rest the idea that this was meant purely for ‘non-paid translation':

    – I don’t want anybody to steal my job”
    – Whether it’s for fun or for profit

    > I spend 15 minutes trying to find the meaning of 車患

    This would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragically retarded, especially since she told us it was a ‘time-sensitive job’. Or was it time-sensitive only because she took so long with what otherwise should have been a short job?

    > For this first draft I am trying to stay as close to the original Japanese meaning as possible

    Which is really really hard when you don’t have a damn clue what the original Japanese actually means. If you had an idea what the original Japanese mean, you wouldn’t need to worry about ‘having to stay close to the Japanese meaning first, writing actualy English second’.

    – making educated guesses about the meanings you don’t know

    For Laura, I’m guessing ‘meanings you don’t know’ would mean ‘pretty much the entire page. Yeah, ’cause clients totally wouldn’t mind if you guessed.

  • Tanya Quintieri

    Why do you have to get rude about this? Do you feel offended? It’s not about them (there’s too many Lauras out there) stealing our jobs. They’re feeding us with jobs that we don’t want to do, namely correcting their stuff after they’ve failed. Not always and by all means I am not saying that an amateur can’t do a good job. But a professional does it faster. A professional has the necessary skills (apart from language skills) and a professional e.g. has the proper insurance in case something does go wrong. Even if it is not a technical translation. For instance, what if that clients decides to use Laura’s translation for a brochure. And what if he would have a print run of let’s say 10,000 copies. What about the clients financial loss? And it is also about educating clients that they pay less in the end if they work with professionals. The economic damage done by amateurs in any profession is huge. And in the end it’s you and me and everyone paying for it. But I do see where this is going: nowhere. So, have fun, live long and prosper.

  • Tanya Quintieri

    A lot of things I’ve read here remind me of a (German?) saying I recently heard: “It’s like eunuchs talking about making love.”

  • les piles

    1. If you quote Oxford, please quote the whole definition : “engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as an amateur.” What is described in the article is not professional translation, yet the author chose to use the word “professionally” in the title.

    2. It’s relevant to the fact that she still accepts translation assignments she can’t do properly although she has other sources of income. Also, in your first answer, you wrote: “she was looking for a job and she was asked to translate.” So? If I were looking for a job and I was asked to do something I couldn’t actually do, should I accept I anyway?

    3. What makes me feel insulted is not a student getting a job she’s not capable of handling. What makes me feel insulted is someone who does something else for a living sharing tricks about how to pretend to be a translator and bullshit clients. It’s perfectly unethical and you know it. I hope.

    As Tanya put it: this is going nowhere. All the best.

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    Get rude? Get offended? Did you see the comments of the other translators (including yours)? They were all filled with rage and most of them contain at least one inappropriate word. Jesus Christ, it’s not as if she was translating medical books or something. let her live and breathe and be happy. -_-
    What’s next? Computer scientists getting enraged because we produce work using software like Word Processors which we are not qualified to use? Yes, there exist a qualification that certifices that you know how to use Microsoft Office. Perhaps, we should not trust anything you type on Word because I would bet you a tofugu life membership that you don’t know half of the tools of microsoft office or any other office package.
    If the client wanted top work he should have asked for credentials and portfolio. Don’t blame Laura if you feel people like her employers undervalue translators. :]

  • Axel Herrmann

    You try to back up something that is totally off track – and your argument that it is “factually incorrect” what Eline writes is a pseudo argument, because the message of the article is exactyl that what makes the professional translators so upset. Taking money for something you do fpr others does not make you a professional, but faking that you have the ability to do something (and not telling your client that you have not the skills it needs to get a perfect and professional result) and taking money for it means that you fake to be a professional, because your client does not know that you don’t have the abilities. So either way you do not know it better or you lie to your client. Both is inacceptable from a professional point of view.

    And encouraging people to act like this is even worse. Don’t be blind just because you’re a fan of the author.

  • Carly Born

    I’m sorry if you are somehow offended. I’m just speaking from my experiences. On more than one occasion the pro stepped back and asked me to take over because they were not prepared for the content. Perhaps that just makes them not as pro as they should be, being that they were not properly prepared to handle the subject matter. I have the utmost respect for professional interpreters and translators, I know that they do things that I cannot do. But if someone asks me to help them understand something when there is no pro available or the pro is not able to communicate well enough to be understood, then I’m going to help them. It’s selfish and rude not to.

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    Hi, there. Nice to meet you too, lovely.
    1. The articles is aimed to student wanting to translate media. Nothing like medicine, engineering, etc.
    2. She gave an example where she tackle a professional job. She nailed and she got called back for more translations. Surely, if they are bad someone will notice. But it has not happened. ^^ Don’t you worry, no one is stealing your job. :]

  • Tanya Quintieri

    I am speaking for myself, not the others. And I am speaking as the president of an Association for professional freelance translators in Germany. Yes, we do accept members who did not get a degree in translation, because we know that many roads can lead to a being a good, professional translator. I am a “job changer” as well and I worked unprofessionally myself for a number of years. Simply because I didn’t know better. But now I do. And I would expect a person halfway intelligent enough to KNOW she’s not a professional (something I was was unaware of for the first years doing “translations” besides my full-time job) not to label her work as such. It’s the message she is spreading that ‘pisses me off’ (sorry for the harsh words). Not her. I am sure she is sweet and all she did was take an opportunity. It’s the “how” she selling her approach here. To me personally, it’s only that label she put there that bothers me. The signals she’s sending out. I’d like to compare it to this: Don’t we all try to do better for our environment? She’s polluting the environment of professional language service providers of all kinds. The world out there, and even more so the internet, is my environment and that of many professionals that have to speak up in this case and make a statement.

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    Because she does not want. :]
    P.S. Your comment is very rude. It’s very easy to spot who is a translator on here by just looking at the comments.

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    There are also people that do harder jobs for 1 dollar a day. :] And they don’t get all rude when someone who needs some money tries to do their job. But hey, all they have to do to be “professional” is charging “good” money for it. :]

  • gohomeloser

    > The articles is aimed to student wanting to translate media.

    The articles -are-, not is. While we’re at it, you need a -d- at the end of ‘tackle’, and you need an -it- between ‘nailed’ and ‘and’. Very odd ‘mistakes’ coming from someone that earlier was waxing so poetically on correctness as an objective term. I personally suspect you’re actually Laura. But I digress.

    > Nothing like medicine, engineering, etc.
    Oh wow!!!! I had no idea accuracy only mattered some of the time! I mean, here all along I was thinking the curator was interested in faithful, accurate translations. Silly me; he needn’t worry his little mind about things like ‘accuracy’, he’s not a doctor or an engineer! How dare he expect ‘accuracy’??

    > Surely, if they are bad someone will notice.
    Oh, eventually yes. But you think every person fleeced at the auto garage knew it? What a repugnant viewpoint – ‘I have no problem turning in shit work and getting paid for it, because hey, someone should notice, right?’.

    And oddly enough you conveniently forget that the curator in the ‘professional’ job above *speaks neither English nor Japanese*. (“turns out the curator only speaks French”).

    > ^^ Don’t you worry, no one is stealing your job. :]
    Oh, no doubt. But someone is definitely stealing hers.

  • gohomeloser

    Well, we certainly can’t tell by reading the article.

  • Ogee!

    “A professional translator and proud of it! #proudxl8 (”

    Is this just a way to come off as arrogant and rubbing it on her face that you are much more than her?

  • Tanya Quintieri

    It’s not about arrogance. It’s about being aware that there’s a difference. She’s making herself miserable in the long run. What if a future employee reads this blog. What will (s)he think? I (or anybody else for that matter) am not more or more valuable than her. But I am a professional translator. That’s all it says.

  • Ogee!

    Regardless, that came off as rude, and it was totally uncalled for.
    If you are a professional then you should act accordingly instead of saying these things just to get an air of superiority (which is what it seems it is).

  • Tanya Quintieri

    It wasn’t meant to be rude. What’s wrong with you? Since when has it become rude to be proud of what we’ve achieved in our lives? Since when have skills become less worthy than cheats? Grow up, will you?

  • Ogee!

    It is called being humble, like the Japanese say. Not waving the pride flag.

    Oh, and forgot to add, I am only calling you on your attitude. Most
    of the points you make and the other angry translators are true I think,
    but there are better ways to tell her.

    I once ( or many times..) got asked to translate things and I refused because I feel I’m not ready yet.

    And to be honest, this “”Fake It Till You Make It: How I Translate Professionally With Imperfect Japanese” title was only pouring gasoline on herself. She could have handled it differently too.

  • Tanya Quintieri

    Exactly. Being. Japanese people show their pride differently – by only doing what they know how to do and by perfectioning what they do. There’s nothing wrong with being proud. Don’t confuse pride with artogance. And then go back to my initial comment. I complained about the hiw, not the what or who. And sorry if there’s typos here. Typing on my cell phone and I can’t see what I’m typing cause the screen is way too narrow now (with the boxed comments). Night ya’ll.

  • Rose Newell

    “There are also people that do harder jobs for 1 dollar a day. :]”
    In different economies, perhaps. They also probably don’t have to invest what we do to be at the top of their game.
    “And they don’t get all rude when someone who needs some money tries to do their job.”
    I don’t know. Have you actually gone to those places and checked? It isn’t about the money here, anyway.
    “all they have to do to be “professional” is charging “good” money for it. :]”
    Actually, not quite what I said. I said that professional translation means managing to translate the hard stuff, day in, day out.
    Some other things that might help you learn the difference:
    1) We understand the passive tense (seriously!).
    2) We don’t leave out hard words or phrases because we do not understand them.
    3) We don’t rely on Google or whatever other tools to make up for the gaps in our knowledge.
    4) We don’t accept work for which we are not qualified.
    5) We realise that doing any of the above three will result in dangerously unreliable work. It may be right 85% of the time, even 95%, but that crucial 5% can cost my client their client in the best scenario, or someone their lives in the worst scenario.
    Professionals DO charge good money for it. This is to reward and compensate the years of practice, further education, training and experience invested, as well as the finances invested in expensive translation memory tools (for the uninitiated – this is nothing at all related to Google Translate and machine translation, but rather an automatic creation of a database of your own past translations, if you will, which helps to ensure accuracy and consistency in your ongoing work), dictionaries, subscriptions to magazines and attendance at events in both the translation sector and whatever sector(s) we translate for. Just like the best copywriters, PR consultants, accountants, tax advisors and lawyers. And that’s why we charge a similar fee. Some girl with beginners’ level Japanese and Google Translate is not in the same league, if even the same profession.

  • Rose Newell

    I think Laura should take the post down for her own sake. She has no idea how bad this will look to future employers. Nobody will openly hire a dishonest cheat: they will constantly question whether she is faking it. Maybe in American culture the entrepreneurship will be admired? But I doubt it. Any legal firm, accountants, PR company or just about ANY company I know well enough would be horrified. Even if they liked her, they wouldn’t hire her because of the bad image this would create for the company. Nobody wants to hire a fake. Nor does anyone want to work with a company with a fake on their staff. Really bad move. In many ways I would rather the article stayed as it is a great exposé of the workings of unskilled, unprofessional, poor-quality and cheap translators… However on the other hand, I worry about Laura as a young individual, however her actions have pissed me off.
    You would not boast about plagiarising your term paper, so why boast about faking your career? It all looks the same in any employer’s eyes.

  • Jonathan Harston

    It’s always easier to translate into your own language as you know the idioms and natural structure better that trying to translate “outwards”. This is the problem I’ve suddenly got.
    I learned Japanese 25 years ago, and since then I’ve only ever used spoken Japanese. It’s annoying, but I’m now functionally illiterate in Kanji. Write it in kana or romaji and I’m ok.
    Now, I’ve just had a job pre-offer where the recruiter has said: the client likes your CV, but would like it in Japanese.
    err… dot dot dot…
    Ok. I can translate “KEY SKILLS”, “RECENT EMPLOYMENT”, “PERSONAL PROFILE” and “I can offer 20 years’ experience of…” but CVs use such a stilted idiomatic language even between different areas that use the same language that I’m sure I’m going to end up with something unreadable.
    Like Laura, my process is to use Google Translate to get some raw text, and then correct it to get something readable.

  • Jonathan Harston

    Actually, the method Laura describes is exactly how the professional text translators I know do it. The only “cheating” is that nowadays you can get the bulk raw text to start on using online translations, but 90% of the work is correcting that raw translation to get the natural language. That “cheating” is just saving 10% of the work that in the past would have taken several days of grunt-work typing.

  • Rose Newell

    Funny professionals is all I can say. I guess they don’t give a damn about client confidentiality.

  • Jonathan Harston

    Sorry, “profession” very definitely refers to the quality of the work, regardless of whether you’re paid for it. I have fought with appallingly produced work that has been paid for where I had been in the same position producing better work the same position but not been paid for.

  • Jonathan Harston

    Whenever I go into hospital I make a point of asking: do you have any students that want to have a prod and work out what I’ve got? How else are they going to learn anything without any supervised hands-on experience?

  • Rose Newell

    Did you let them carry out brain surgery, too? That’s the feeling I’m getting.
    Do bear in mind whenever a translator is let loose on a company’s text, they are let loose on the company’s entire corporate image. Words are powerful. They can make a crucial pitch or advertising campaign fail. They can lead to being sued. They can lead to a reputation of not taking a given market seriously.

  • Loek van Kooten

    Those are not professionals. A real professional doesn’t use Google Translate, because it will only slow him down. If it actually speeds you up, you’re a terrible translator.

  • Jonathan Harston

    How do brain surgeons get experience of brain surgery if the only people allowed to do brain surgery are people who have already done brain surgery? Presumably, you also insist that only people who already know how to drive a car are allowed in the driver’s seat of a car.
    I’ve once had a student anesthetist, twice had nasal polyps removed by a student surgeon – supervised, of course. How on earth do doctors learn their doctorin’ if they they’re not allowed to learn with a real patient before they’re allowed anywhere near a real patient?
    Bear in mind that we are discussing an ENGLISH native language user translating INTO ENGLISH. The scenario of a translator screwing up their client’s text and creating a nonsense translation is apt to happen with a source language native attempting to translate OUT of their language. All your word belong us. Also, all Laura is doing is translating museum display labels, for Glod’s sake!

  • Loek van Kooten

    And it’s very easy to see that you’ve got a crush on Laura, if you are not Laura herself.

  • Loek van Kooten

    Go to to find out why. That’s me there.

  • My God

    You deffo have both pride and arrogance. Let us see what your customers think of that.

  • Gosh

    Strawman argument.

  • Loek van Kooten

    And there’s the competition.

  • Ashley Cowles

    As a professional translator specializing in creative texts, I can assure you that book translations are most definitely paid work. It might not pay as much as other areas, but there is absolutely no reason to believe books are translated for free.

    Furthermore, I don’t think you should be working in a field you have no knowledge of, especially if you’re ruining the market for those of us who are professionals, who know what we’re doing and who actually speak the languages we work in.

  • gohomeloser

    Based on the above I can only surmise that you know next to nothing about translation. The first and foremost prerequesite skill required for translation is…um, actually understanding the source test. The next most important skill for (good) translations is English writing ability. I don’t care if you had William fuckin’ Shakespeare working on your text, he’d still be a crap J-E translator.

    Laura from the article can’t read Japanese. End of story.

  • Fugu Eater

    Jesus Christ. My beloved Rose Newell mother of all things that need a painful birth!
    Her post, her rules. Period.
    You keep repeating to take the post as if what she did is something horrible. She tackled something over her level and got paid. Guess, what? Some employers will like that. She did what she had to get paid. This business, Rosie. I bet your high morals will help you a lot in this increasingly competitive world where 100000 of people can get your job done for a lower pay. Does having this post online annoy you? Are you sensitive about the way translators are viewed? Hey, who needs translators when we have Google Translate? Translators? Is that a profession. That kind of views.
    Dont fake it, lovely Rosie, you are worried about Laura. You are worried about your pride being “touched” because of this post. Because someone less talented than you got the work done and above all got paid. And you don’t like that. Because that means competition, right? The kind of competition that implies getting out of your comfort zone and accepting that we live in a competitive world where your work ethics are not as valued as the final work. As she said, this was just a way to get some money as she is not planning to be a translator. So if time is short and Google Translate can help. Props to her. Besides, do you really think an employer will find this article? LOL This article does not contain Laura’s full name. Good luck with the search!

  • Fugu Eater

    And I guess clients don’t give a damn about client confidentiality. Clients want the work done. If they want something else, they go somewhere else and pay extra for it.

  • Ashley Cowles

    You obviously have no idea who Rose is, or how well-known and respected she is in the professional translation community. Oh well.

  • Rose Newell

    The brain surgeons get experience through study and qualifications. Like those obtained by professional translators.

  • Loek van Kooten

    If you knew Japanese like I do, you’d notice that Laura has been using Google Translate because she doesn’t know how passives work in Japanese. Passives are a very basic and easy subject compared to the far more complicated grammatical phenomenons you will encounter in this language. Even my 5-year old son understands the passive, but I would never have him translate my texts, not by a hair on my chinny chin chin.

    I’ve been rather polite until now, but to be honest, Laura’s Japanese sucks, and not just a little bit. If you need Google Translate to understand the structure of a sentence, apparently your Japanese is not good enough to see through the structure yourself. Now, in the case of Japanese, Google Translate mixes up subjects, objects and other clauses quite often, resulting in a translation that is totally opposite to what was actually written. And since Laura needs Google Translate to understand what is going on, she cannot judge the quality of the translations it generates. She just looks at the English, polishes it a bit, but then does not realize that the whole idea behind the translation generated was wrong in the first place.

    Read my lips: you cannot judge quality if the object responsible for said quality is on a higher level than yourself. If said object were not on a higher level, you wouldn’t have consulted it in the first place.

    Your Japanese will never be perfect, as even the Japanese of the Japanese people isn’t perfect. It’s also totally normal not to understand every word in the text, especially when jargon is involved. But at the very least you should be able to grasp the grammar in a sentence without blinking an eye. If you can’t do that, you’re not ready for paid translation without a supervisor.

    Now, to show you where I’m coming from… I have a Master of Arts in Japanese, am winner of the Japanese Speech Contest in The Netherlands organized by the Japanese embassy, am head of the Benelux Chapter of the International Association of Translators and Interpreters, have been running a translation agency for 18 years, have been married to a Japanese spouse for 18 years and have two kids that are raised bilingually. I know about 3500 kanji and regularly correct the Japanese of the Japanese themselves. My Japanese is definitely not perfect, but it is absolutely fluent and on near-native level (I make a mistake twice a month or so).

    There are many things I’m not good at, but the Japanese language is the one and only thing I managed to nail down in my life. This I know, and this is the truth: Laura is a fraud. If her client were an American and ever found out about this blog, she’d be sued. Laura is lucky her client is Japanese. The Japanese hardly sue. They’ll just be very disappointed and move on.

    As for her translations being good because the client did not complain: Japanese hardly speak English themselves, and that’s exactly why they hired her. The Americans reading her pamphlets will not complain either, as they can’t read the Japanese original. Do you now understand the enormous responsibility that comes with this profession? Translation is way more than just writing something that seems to make sense.

    And yes, of course it’s about the money. She doesn’t want to tell us the name of the client… not because of confidentiality issues (which would be understandable), but because she doesn’t want us to steal her job. Laura is a crook charging money for malpractice.

  • Ashley Cowles

    Wordfast, like MemoQ and Trados, isn’t a “translation computer program”. Rather, it is a software tool that enables you to build your own translation memories in order to ensure consistency when you’re working with terms that come up more often. It doesn’t actually translate anything for you the way Google Translate does, which means you’ll actually have to do the translation work yourself. You know, like professional translators do.

  • Fugu Eater

    Claims to authority don’t impress me. Neither do insults to Laura. Especially if the particular authority is more prone on emotional bursts than civilised use of reason.

  • Hinoema

    I have to agree with the others here. This is an awful approach to any translating where money changes hands. Also, things like “…finally managed to convince some poor fool to pay me to translate Japanese for them ” and “sometimes I just have to ask a native speaker of Japanese” show a complete lack of respect for the client, the language and your ‘translations’. That can give the profession a bad reputation.

    This would have been fine if you were clearly doing this for practice, charging no one and not expecting anything beyond helpful feedback. Charging for it is unethical and dishonest.

  • Chuck

    This website has given me a lot of great tips on studying Japanese but after reading this article I’ll be very careful of what I trust as good information on here. This article is a monstrosity and I feel sorry for the people she is translating for. It’s obvious the admins of this site are scraping for new content and with this they have gone too far.

  • Loek van Kooten

    Wait, you give props to crooks charging money for malpractice? That says more about you than about Rose, to be honest. I earn 150.000 USD per year, my friend. We don’t even have time for more clients, so we are not afraid of competition. It’s just that people using the name of our profession to commit fraud disgust us. They give us a bad rep.

    Yes, contrary to some, we do have ethics. And that’s why we make more money than you ever will. Because honesty and ethics will prevail in the end. But you’re too short-sighted to realize even that.

  • Fugu Eater

    Let me dissect your comment.

    ” I earn 150.000 USD per year, my friend.” That’s completely irrelevant.

    “And that’s why we make more money than you ever will.” See the above comment. Also, that’s a lovely thing of you to say, because you know neither my age nor my profession. Anyway, your comment was merely an emotional one.

    “We don’t even have time for more clients, so we are not afraid of competition.” But still you are afraid of reputation, aren’t you?

    “It’s just that people using the name of our profession to commit fraud disgust us.” There are people doing worse things in this world, Loek. Are you disgusted at the politicians that control your life? Are you disgusted at the numbers of animals that die and live in horrible ways so you can eat them? Are you disgusted about the American government spying on you? I bet you are not. If you want to talk ethics, fake translators is the least of your problems, “my friend”.

    Oh, so you have ethics. The ethics of self-interest, right? You are not on here to warn/advise Laura but to criticise and verbally attack her so that she feels bad about posting about her naughty attempts at translation. Even if you are right, all your comments so far are full of arrogance, strawman arguments and details aimed at emotional blackmail.”

    “Because honesty and ethics will prevail in the end.” Oh, my idealist “friend”, take a good look at the world and repeat what you said above. But before that, I suggest you have some reading on ethics before you get all philosophical because it does not sound like you know what ethics is about.


    your Fugu Eater friend

  • Loek van Kooten

    Oh, but that is very relevant, as people insinuated we were afraid for our income. Well, we are not. As for ethics, one crime doesn’t justify the other.

    I hereby end this discussion. Farewell, and see you never again. This is my last response.

  • Aquatackgirl .

    I really enjoyed this article a lot!! Thank You! ありがとうございます。私は日本語を勉強します。頑張って下さい。w

  • marcan

    The main discussion aside, “A real professional doesn’t use Google Translate, because it will only slow him down.” is a sweeping statement that isn’t quite true. I know a professional translator (over 25 years of experience in software translation) who has a very peculiar style of working, where he automates the process using large amounts of hotkeys and macros (he taught himself AutoHotKey) to perform manipulations on the text and translation memory/dictionary lookups instead of just banging out the target language from start to finish. This allows him to be very efficient. Recently he discovered that Google Translate has gotten good enough for simple sentences that using it to pretranslate them and correcting the mistakes using his editing macros is actually faster than doing it from scratch – he now has a hotkey to run the current sentence through the Google Translate API (which takes a tiny fraction of a second). Mind you, this hinges on his efficient editing macros – it probably wouldn’t save time for a more typical translation style.

    A real professional won’t use Google Translate as a crutch to figure out the meaning of the original text – but might well use Google Translate as a time-saving measure, under the right circumstances. Confidentiality is a complex topic that is probably not worth arguing over here, but most of the time Google’s privacy policy is reasonable enough that it should not be of significant concern.

    I agree that Laura definitely shouldn’t be advertising herself as a professional though.

  • Wonder Party

    I’d like to thank Laura for posting this article, even if it is an embarrassment to her and therefore an embarrassment to Tofugu as well. It has encouraged some really interesting discussion by true professionals in the field and I feel really grateful to have been able to learn more about their work and standards.

    As one who has lived in Japan for several years and is currently in a 2 year intensive language program with no clear direction for after completion, the discussion has really made me stop and take a second look at further study in the translation field. I had been under the false impression that apart from truly life-or-death situations that translation wasn’t such a great field as any bilingual kid or any Laura could show up take care of most of the available work for pennies.

    Interesting stuff! Thank you for the insights everyone.

  • Joshua Warhurst

    To Laura and her fans: don’t disregard the advice of the translators here. Whether or not they may come off as rude or angry towards you, their general points are wholly valid. If someone wanted their work translated and saw this piece from Laura, there is little chance she’d be hired for professional work.

    To Laura herself: I’d recommend at the very least editing this article, if not removing it entirely. Remove the pretense of getting money for this work, any mention of the word “professional”, and any mention of managing to sneak by to make this work. Removal is honestly suggested if you’re trying to become a professional translator.

    That said…

    The Good: There’s a lot of good suggestions here for those trying to translate for themselves or for those who have translation work forced on them. My small town once forced a translation project on me because they couldn’t pay for a professional translation and they knew I had a background in Japanese. I was upfront with them that it would be difficult for me, but they went ahead and used me anyway. Advice like this is decent for those in similar positions.

    As method to learn Japanese, there is some good advice here. While the Google Translate advice is iffy (if you’re confused about grammar, consult the grammar itself through internet or book resources), comparing meanings across sources if you’re unsure about usage and going through multiple drafts is a great idea. Like teaching others Japanese for free before you’re fluent, translating for free (for yourself, friends, family, or those who know you’re not a professional) is a great way to expose yourself to difficult texts and improve your reading comprehension.

    But if someone offers you money and you don’t expose your weaknesses, like others have said, that is fraud at the plainest level. Many jobs require extensive training before employers present them to the public. Even a fast food job requires some basic training with someone over your shoulder before they let you do the job solo. The fact that this doesn’t happen in translation, and the fact that an employer often will accept your work as correct without the ability to judge it just means the burden of doing work ethically is all the more important. Admittedly, it happens in a lot of professions. Many people become teachers and journalists far before they’re ready. Any of these jobs where lying and misinformation is not obvious for both sides are ripe for it. On the other hand, if someone offers you money and you -do- lay open your faults, then it is their decision.

    Finally, if you want to become a better translator or interpreter, you NEED feedback. Translating like this may improve your Japanese and your translation abilities on some level, but if you are serious about this, ask others about your translations and make sure to get many eyes on it. The worst thing someone in training can do is to hide their work for fear of others judging them. It’s good that you brought these methods up, because it exposes their strengths and weaknesses, and it is important to use both of those to better your writing and translation.

    Sorry for the long post, but I think at least some of what I wrote is worth heeding.

  • Fugu Eater

    Good times. Go preach work ethics somewhere else. I suggest McDonalds. They care a lot about that. :]

    Goodbye, Lo! :]


    LOL! Google Translate is amazing for words. Never again, for sentences.

  • Peter Durfee

    Trying to look up 鉄地 as a single morpheme is not going to work, because it isn’t one. Try looking up 地 on its own and you will find that it has definitions like 加工や細工の土台 or 基となって支えている部分 (both of these definitions are from 大辞林, which costs money, although you can access it via In the context of a helmet, you have a *base layer* made of iron. Atop this 地 you can have lacquer, brocade, and all sorts of other decorative overlays.

    It’s nice that you walked away from the idea of translating it as “iron ore” or “iron earth,” since it doesn’t mean anything like those (and the latter in particular makes no sense as English). And it’s good that you attached plenty of notes to the client to let him know that you were uncertain about these spots in the text—that’s something all of us do in the profession, no matter how many years we’ve been at it.

    What’s not nice is the attitude that comes across quite strongly in the essay (from the first two words in the title, in fact) that says “expertise and experience are overrated when you can find clients who don’t know any better to pay you for your intermediate-Japanese-level work.” Of course you’ve got to start somewhere and the more you do this at any level, the better you’re going to get. But you have got to start with a better mindset than the one you display here.

  • Peter Durfee

    Nonsense! I use it all the time to figure out what books my authors are referencing in Korean and Russian and so on. ;-) For J-E, yeah, a total waste of time . . .

  • ???

    lol at all the weeaboos coming out of the woodwork to white-knight the author here

  • Richard Robertson

    This is an interesting article :)

  • Eli~

    I can use some of the sites you pointed out, since I didn’t know much about dictionaries and so on in Japanese. Do you use any tool to translate? They are important because with them you don’t forget a line or word to translate, I’m using wordfast these days.

    I got the comments but I really LOLed with the comments “I’m a professional translator”… oh really? Have you graduated as a translator? Or do you think that just because you know a language you can say so? I could say the same “stop taking jobs that should be made by professional translators”, go study about translation before thinking you are entitled to say anything.

  • Shanghai Ronin

    I have mixed feelings about this article.

    I’ve been a J-E freelance translator for about 4 years and now I work as a translator/interpreter at an ad agency.

    First of all, I agree with most of the comments on here that this post will do more bad than good. This could potentially ruin
    your translation career. It does not make you sound very professional… If a potential client googles your name looking for a translator and they read this—well, you can kiss that job goodbye.

    Also, that is some really crazy hard translation up there. Whenever I get “ancient Japanese” stuff like that, I automatically turn it down. I mean, seriously, I highly doubt modern day Japanese people can even read those sentences up there—much less translate it. That makes it triple hard for us foreigners. If you’re going to start out in the translation field, don’t pick such a hard subject at first.

    But I give you credit because you tried. I mean, many of the comments are being harsh on you for using Google Translate or
    Rikaichan, but you have to start somewhere…. right? When I first started taking translation jobs, I didn’t speed through the whole thing—no dictionary necessary—and complete a perfection translation. No way! The first year I used google translate AS A
    REFERENCE (never copied and pasted), used rikaichan instead of a dictionary because it was faster, and really struggled a lot. But after a few jobs and practice, I stopped using google translate, my translations became much smoother and cleaner, and
    now I feel confident enough to say, “yes, I’m a translator.”

    But no translator should take work they don’t think they can do. I often get asked to do medicine or legal work, but the fact is I’m not a doctor or skilled in law, so I can either 1. Wing it and give them an inaccurate translation or 2. Turn it down. I realize you’re an Asian Studies major and may know about Samurai armor or whatnot, but really, those kanji up there are nuts and I think few people in this world could translate that without a dictionary or internet help. TBH, I think if you polish up your Japanese and keep going with translation then you might have a bright future in this industry, but if you keep taking jobs that are obviously too difficult, then just stop now.
    Also, shouldn’t Tofugu post a “How to become a professional J-E translator” article before the “How to Fake it till you Make it?” Kind of… backwards.

  • gohomeloser

    > especially if you’re ruining the market for those of us who are professionals

    a) that’s not the correct reason to be made at the OP, and b) If you actually think this, you’re clearly a bad, bottom-feeder translator yourself.There is zero possibility Laura from the article is ‘ruining’ the market for true professionals. She might be ruining it for -you- by inadvertently educating the client to the existence of bad translators such as yourself calling themselves ‘professionals’.

  • Guest

    It’s funny that you think you know me and the quality of my work. If anything, she’s educating her client about the fact that students who take up translation as a hobby are anything but professionals. I suggest you take your own user name’s advice.

  • LC VB

    I can say is, I’m shocked. Professional translators spend years studying and perfecting
    their language(s) and are never truly satisfied. I detest every translation
    ever made with Google Translate or by an amateur who “knows a little
    English/Italian/French/Japanese”. This article was amusing at first, but
    really started to aggravate me up to no end. Kudos on this well-written
    article, but please; stick to your mother tongue. My translators are only
    allowed to translate to their mother tongue or to a language they have proven
    to master on a native level. This article is why. Sad.

  • Gwyn

    dude stop being an asshat

  • lumiina

    I am no where near qualified to be a translator, nor am I interested in becoming one (I’m more interested in having a career in which only Japanese is used). However, I would say if you’re still using google translate, and can’t use a J-J dictionary without looking up unfamiliar words in a J-E dictionary, than you shouldn’t be translating, as someone is relying on that translation of yours and is blindly accepting that it is correct. So many researchers out there actually use translations like yours (Which, I disagree with. I think every researcher should be learning the language of the country they study). Which is another reason for me not to trust second-hand information from books written in English. I’ve always been a little skeptical. But that’s only because I can do the work myself and read about the topic in Japanese. But I have to rely on translations for languages I’m not learning. And in those cases, I really hope I’m getting a professional that is deeply immersed into the language they are translating and the culture of that language and is fluent in that language.

    Even though I use solely a J-J dictionary for looking up unfamiliar words, I don’t consider myself fluent.

    I do like to take little translation projects on the side to help my Japanese, such as subbing something for a school project. However, my husband (native Japanese speaker, native-level English speaker) corrects my mistakes for me and helps me figure out what I can’t distinguish in the audio. I would never want to be presenting something that isn’t correct to my audience, but I’d still rather do the majority of the work myself so that I’m analyzing the Japanese. This is a nice compromise for people who have a native-speaker (such as a tutor, or lang-8) to correct their work while at the same time improving their Japanese. And of course, this shouldn’t be paid work. Think of it as an opportunity to fan sub. Perhaps this is a more reasonable alternative.

  • Doodle

    I am butthurt. Because we’ve fucking studied to become professional translators. Because we fucking care if our name goes published somewhere or translate sensitive material, something like that. And that’s why we have fucking ethics, too. You get the picture now? I don’t think so, because from the way you speak and defend Laura, I assume you don’t even know what I’m talking about.

  • Doodle

    LOL I hope to see you proofreading a philosophical book that a “translator” has worked on with google translator. Just as I am doing now. Save my ass.

  • Doodle

    And Laura, stop creating fake accounts, my dog would be more credible than you are

  • Doodle

    So what? First, we all know that this is just a junk article to attract us here and have your freggin conversions. Second, yes, despite we know, this post is very annoying, especially for a translator with a severe form of myopia and who’d rather spend her time on dictionaries and forums for a single word (me, basically) than stuffing her client’s ass with lies and unprofessionalism like Laura does.

  • Doodle

    Laura stop creating fake accounts you’re not credible

  • Nevin Thompson

    You do realize Peter Durfee explained 地 in this context above, don’t you? Man, talk about pissing off the very people in this industry who can help you start out.

  • Deedee

    Yes, there are lots of things you don’t know because you didn’t grow up in Japan but one of the first things I learned when I studied Japanese was the word “honor” and how honor is the cornerstone of Japanese culture. Maybe your Japanese teacher just decided to leave this out as you obviously have never heard of it.

    This is disgraceful. You did the equivalent of knowingly selling someone defective merchandise then you come online to brag about it and ridicule your client. There’s just so much that is wrong with this piece of crap you posted and on so many levels. Your actions are at best dishonest, unethical and shameful.

  • Robert Benesh

    Before you attack people like Laura for attempting to translate, oh lord of language, you should have a native English speaker proofread your website for you so they can correct all those grammatical mistakes.

  • Loek van Kooten

    Did it really take you four months to come up with that masterpiece?

  • purplewowies

    This is precisely the issue I take with the article. I mean, its advice is solid… but the fact that she is getting paid for something she’s not qualified to do is not.
    I know, like, 5 words in Japanese and some rudimentary word order/syntax knowledge (though “translate for fun” has actually helped me learn some), and I use many of the methods she’s listed in her post in my own Japanese to English translation (though my mainstays are Google Translate and, funnily enough, Wiktionary’s kanji list by radical/stroke/base stuff). And I can bring Google Translate to its knees in a variety of languages. But even then, I don’t trust the translations unless I’ve heavily vetted them (best case scenario, ask a fluent user “does this look good”), and I don’t even share the translations unless it’s the most casual situation ever and/or I’m reasonably sure I’ve gotten the translation right. Which means I’ve shared like one thing in a subject in which I am very learned and was able to extract a good general meaning from the garbled translator text (I shared a Japanese flyer for a movie I really love). And trying my hand at understanding Japanese in these ways actually got me to take a Japanese class next semester since I had the room in my schedule.
    But I would never accept payment for a language I’d have to extensively use an online translator on. Heck, I’d never do an ASL interpreting job, even though I’m good enough there to do an adequate job (I’m going to become a teacher, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable interpreting unless I was straight-up RID certified).
    The problem is not that she’s using these methods to extract a meaning. It’s that she’s getting paid for something she’s not qualified/licensed/certified to do. In situations where it’s likely important, no less (it’s a museum/curator, for crying out loud).