【抄訳】Interview With an English-Japanese Translator

I will be posting more translations of things I find interesting on the web. Just to be clear, these are just done in my free time. The first one is an interview with a woman who does English-Japanese translation.

Why did I choose this particular interview?

Because I know plenty of people who are Japanese-English translators, but I don’t know many native Japanese translators. I enjoy reading about someone who struggled with English and seeing the differences and similarities in our language experiences.

Keep in mind that this is an abridged translation, hence the 抄訳 in the title of the post. I selected certain parts relevant to translation, as I found the advice useful and the anecdotes interesting.

 

Why did you become interested in translation?
I’ve always had an urge to write. In college, I was in a band and wrote our song lyrics. At that time, there was something inside of me that just gushed out. Now after taking on a few more years, that feeling is gone, but I still would like to write.
Translation starts off with someone who has to tell something to someone else. I think the task of writing that something in a way that the receiver will understand it fits me well, especially since I want to write, yet have nothing to write about at the moment.
I actually wanted to be a psychiatrist when growing up. I am interested in people. I enjoy wondering about why people say what they say, what they’re thinking about. I think that’s why I have such an interest in words. But recently I’ve been thinking that everyone is different and that’s okay. I’m gradually losing my habit of analyzing people. (laughs)

How did you study translation?
For a while, I worked during the day and attended night classes at a translation school. Afterwards, I decided to just study abroad for a year in Oregon. I never had confidence in my spoken English and I always told myself that it was because I’d never studied abroad. I figured if I finally did, I wouldn’t be able to make any more excuses.
I took online translation classes while in America. After I returned to Japan, I started doing actual translation work as a temp. My priority was getting actual practice working as translation staff, but I had to do office work as well in the beginning. I gained experience working in places including precision machinery companies, central government ministries, and environmental groups. To be honest, I had no specialization.  I wanted to think about that only after working in a lot of different fields. I was blessed with my work environments and was able to learn a lot of practical skills while working.
After 10 years of studying and working I finally had built up some confidence, so I decided to become a freelancer as I had desired to in the beginning.

What is most interesting about translation?
I think the translator’s position itself, that fact that I’m doing this because someone wrote something that they want to communicate to someone else who won’t understand it as is, is interesting. I know it’s impossible, but ideally, I’d like to become like a machine (laughs), like a converter that can take in English and churn out the most accurate, suitable Japanese.
It’s almost like the way a medium transfers the words of spirits. One time, I was applying to an agency and was asked, “What kind of translator do you want to be”. My response was “I want to be like a medium”. I know they were shocked. (laughs) Basically, it means I’d like to be able to bring out 100% of what needs to be conveyed in both meaning and feeling. It might sound meddlesome, but I want to do help someone who has something to convey but can’t do it themselves.

Are there any difficulties you encounter?
The fact that I have to translate something written by someone with a completely different culture and way of thinking. With only my English classes and year abroad under my belt, I can’t truly think like an English speaker. I am simply prone to being influenced by “classroom English”. It’s both a fun and difficult predicament. I’ll probably always have trouble with it.

I’m sorry to bring up a more serious topic, but taxes are also an inconvenient thing about freelance translating.(laughs) I was shocked when I saw that the residence tax for my second year freelancing had become 20 times the amount from when I was a salaried worker partway through the previous year. Translators don’t have a lot of expenses, but at this point, I have to somehow increase them to pay fewer taxes.(laughs)

What are some things you are careful of as a professional translator?
I make sure to respond as quickly as possible to any correspondence, regardless of whether I’ll accept the work or not. Everyone gets a lot of emails every day, but I can’t focus on work if I don’t reply to each one as it comes in. Although, there are many who say checking once an hour, or waiting a while and dealing with all of them at once is more productive.

I am always diligent about research. Of course, I look up things I don’t understand, but there are times when I don’t understand uses of simple vocabulary as well, so I’ll look up simple words too. I’ll even double or triple-check. There’s no way I’d hand in something without looking it over.

Like everyone else, I absolutely hate turning things in late. I also hate being late to places. I’d rather not go at all than be late, so I’m really careful about deadlines.

Would you leave us with some words for aspiring translators?
I think everyone is lost in the beginning. Even if you take a translation test, there are places that simply refuse you due to a lack of experience. Therefore, I think it is good to try out translating in a temp position. With that experience, you can take tests without worry. I don’t think you have to worry about when to take tests; if it’s too early and you fail a lot of them, you can simply get more experience. Personally, I think getting work experience is better than attending a translation school. For one, you can learn a lot of vocabulary from different industries. In addition, you can get feedback from those around you. I think it’s better to simply get a lot of exposure to different areas, regardless of whether or not it will be useful down the line. If you already have a field you’re interested in, try to get into a company in that field and ask about translation opportunities. Promote yourself. Take initiative!

You can read the full interview in Japanese here.

Author: Koyami

I’m Koyami. I am a freelance Japanese-English Translator and I enjoy learning new skills and reading in my spare time. Current pursuits include juggling, piano, and collecting all of the 十二国記 books.
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