Fake It Till You Make It: How I Translate Professionally With Imperfect Japanese

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

samurai

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, Jisho.org, and Kotobank.jp. 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

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).

鯱の胴体部は背を中心に鉄薄板に鱗を打出した二枚を左右から合わせ
形成し、これに眉庇を兼用する鯱の頭部の鬼面を被せ…

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:

mabisashi

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

cleanup

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.

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Bonus Wallpapers

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  • 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 http://www.loekalization.com 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.

    Love,

    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! :]

  • DAVIDPD

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

  • http://durf.org/ 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 Kotobank.jp). 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.

  • http://durf.org/ 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.

  • http://shanghaironin.wordpress.com/ 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

    All
    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).