Translating: The Correct Mindset.

Lifelong Learning 生涯学習Recently, while searching for leads into new opportunities for translation and interpretation, I came across a question posted on the Japanese Q&A portal known as 教えてgoo (oshiete goo) that resonated with my feelings towards translation exactly. There are several websites in English which run on a similar platform. A question is posted, other users freely offer up answers and suggestions, and the original user chooses what they believe to be the best answer. The author of said answer receives credit and reputation in the community for providing valuable information. Whether or not any monetary transactions take place, I am unaware. What I am aware of, and have been surprised by several times to date, is the number of users that offer very detailed, specific, and thoughtful feedback (oftentimes in very polite language). Aside from websites that pride themselves on the quality of their content and manage their community well (such as the American-based Quora), it has struck me that this differs dramatically from the oftentimes shallow and too oftentimes reckless commentary found in similar websites catered to English-speaking audiences.

That aside, here is the original question posted in 2010 by user sosrsvp titled “英語の翻訳者・在宅翻訳・フリーランス翻訳で少しでも稼ぐ為には??”(What does it take to save a little money as an English Translators/Home Translators/Freelance Translator?):

英語は仕事で 日常的に使っていましたので そこそこ出来ます。
TOEICは 950点+でした。
先ず 簡単な翻訳から始めて 翻訳経験を積んでから 本格的に
現在 プロになられた先輩の経験談と 助言を御願い致します。

“It have reached the age where I am to retire…
Since I will remain on-call, in any case, I am met with the problem regarding my qualifications for receiving pension payments, and so I am looking for work that I can do at home.
Although I’m just a regular company employee without any special skills/qualifications, I can speak english pretty well because I used English regularly at work. My TOEIC score was a 950+.
I would like to start with some simple translation, and then, once I have gained translation experience, really go for it and try some more difficult work, but I could use some advice and consul from anyone who may have had a similar experience to me and who is, presently, a professional translator. Thank you.”

This, upon first read, seems a reasonable enough question. One that surely many are familiar with and would be interested in hearing answered. Expecting concrete answers, I continued reading unassumingly. What I found was a response by user kokopeli who expounded in great length on the theory behind translation as a profession, in their opinion. Moved at the passion of the response, I began to consider my own interpretation of being an interpreter. What is it that drives my profession? Do I want to use Japanese at work…or…do I want to make Japanese my work? I re-post kokopeli’s response below, with my own translation in italics, below the quote:


「英語は仕事で 日常的に使っていましたので そこそこ出来ます」とのことですが、これまでにそういう方を数多く見てきました。しかしその多くが、自信ばかりで実力が伴わず、プロの翻訳者としては使い物になりませんでした。







“First, I am by no means in a senior position. Though it has been 19 years since I first began translation work, I am still quite young and inexperienced. In that time, I have worked with several other translators, and have been involved in the hiring of several more. Though it may come across as a bit harsh at times,for what it’s worth, allow me to express my personal opinion.

I have come across many people who, such as yourself, say, “I can speak english pretty well because I used English regularly at work.” However, confidence alone is no indicator of actual ability and many were not useful as professional translators.

“Doing your work in English”, does not require English ability as much as long as you can do the work. However, “Making English your work”, especially when it comes to translation work, demands you be highly proficient in English, Japanese, and research/inquiry. “pretty well” will not cut it. Your TOEIC score is only small measure of English ability, not useful until examined and considered in context of your greater ability to translate.

There is no such thing as “simple translation”. I do not know what you mean when you say “simple”. No matter what the context, the work of transplanting the style and speciality of a text faithfully into another language is no easy task. Whether it be translating for a publisher or industry, the foundation is the same.

As for what it means to be a translator, I recommend reading Yōichi Yamaoka’s “Honyaku to wa Nani ka: Shokugyō toshite no Honyaku” (To be a Translator: Translating as a Profession) . I’ve also included a link to “Honyaku Tsūshin” (Translator’s Monthly) so please give that a look.

Then again, because you are retiring, surely you have a knowledge about a certain specialization. Tying that knowledge with translation would the best way to get the highest market value, I believe. When you are ready, the best thing to do would b to undertake a “trial” project from a translation company, and then begin to take on more and more work. As a translator, you are a student for life, there is no such thing as “proficient” and you don’t “gain experience and then really go for it”.  No, there is no other way about it than to gain experience as you do work to the best of your ability.

Finally, translation work from home is difficult work. Chased by deadlines, sleep is the first thing to go. Translation on its own is something that must be studied every day. Newspapers, magazines, TV, anything could potentially be a “resource” for future work…so I am constantly taking notes. The ability to inquire and research online is essential.  It’s a line of work plagued with eyes going bad, shoulders cramping up, and back pain. Unless you really like translating, you will be unable to do this work.

That being said, it is interesting work. Worthwhile. It may not pay much, honestly, it doesn’t allow for savings. Yet, I am and have been happy doing this work for coming on 20 years now. And of course, for many more years to come.”

 I respect and admire the pride many Japanese place in their work. It is a quality that I hope to emulate in everything I do (though I often fall short). Whether they be a plumber or a painter, salesman or sailor, it should not be unreasonable as the employer expect results to the highest degree possible by that employee. Based on this emotional and clear response, I have every reason to believe that kokopeli would agree and, should I ever be in need of kokopeli’s services, would expect nothing less than the highest quality translations.

Readers, what about kokopeli’s response do you agree with? What do disagree with? What kinds of mindset do you believe every top-notch translator should possess?

Full post on 教えてgoo.


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