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Translating from Japanese into English for non-natives...
Thread poster: Sergio Juarez Garcia
Sergio Juarez Garcia
Spain
Local time: 13:38
Japanese to Spanish
+ ...
Feb 28, 2006

I wonder if it is possible for a non-native English speaker to translate Japanese into English. I have read in the web about many translators (supossedly non-natives) who translate Japanese into English, so I was asking myself if I could not do the same. I think for certain fields a translator should not try (say, literature, poetry, comic, videogames...), but for other fields, as soft manuals, IT, patents,... I feel I am able to do it, still, as I am not native, I don't know if I should try.

Please answer with suggestions!!


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Himawari22  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:38
Japanese to English
Translating into a non-native tongue Feb 28, 2006

I taught an introductory translation course of Japanese to English, and most of my students were Japanese. While it is mostly pretty obvious when a non-native speaker has done the translation, I did have several students who did a remarkably good job despite the fact that they were working out of their native tongue. I think that, if you do a lot of reading in English in the genres in which you think you might do translating, you could give it a try, but I would recommend having a friend (who does speak English as a native tongue) proofread your translations for a while at first, just to make sure that your work sounds natural. Encourage your friend to be brutal in their criticism because it will only help you to write better English!! I would also recommend trying to analyze English texts in the genres you are interested in, to try to understand how the sentences are formed (by English speakers for English speakers).

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Marc Adler  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:38
Japanese to English
Probably not a problem Mar 1, 2006

I've heard it estimated that over half of all Japanese to English translation is done by Japanese people. (Yes, it's statistical hearsay, but are there any hard figures for this kind of thing?) My experience working with agencies in Japan backs this up. There are a few reasons (too few native English speakers who can write and not just speak the language, etc.), but the result is a booming industry for native proof-readers. I know people who make a decent living just proof-reading J-E translations done by Japanese people. I don't know if there's another country in the world where that's even possible.

The reason for the demand is the low quality of English produced by most native Japanese translators. It's not their fault - the languages are just too different. Someone whose native language is, say, Spanish, already "knows" most of what a Japanese person has to learn when studying English - word order, use of the plural, use of articles, and so on. In other words, your average Spanish-speaker (by which I mean someone who isn't necessarily a linguistic genius) can learn to speak English to a much higher level of naturalness and fluency than your average Japanese native putting in the same amount of effort.

So I'd say the answer to your question is that there's plenty of room in the Japanese translation market for non-natives of English who are fluent in English and Japanese. Now, the Japanese being the sticklers for appearance that they are, they might balk at the idea of having a non-native English speaker translate something into English, regardless of how perfect that person's English is. (Although they have no problem having a Japanese person do the same translation - go figure.) In fact, this would probably be the biggest sticking point. The fastest way around that would just be to say that you went to summer camp in the US every summer since you were eight, or something, in order to get your foot in the door. Once they see the high quality of your English, though, such questions will become academic.

Marc


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Sergio Juarez Garcia
Spain
Local time: 13:38
Japanese to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks a lot for your help!!! Mar 2, 2006

Your answers have been of great help to me. I think now I can go further and give it a try to J-E translation. It's just that translation from Japanese is more interesting to me than translation from English or other languages.
The description of the Japanese translation market has been of great help. Thanks again!!!


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mstkwasa
Local time: 12:38
English to Japanese
+ ...
Go for it! Mar 6, 2006

I would like to echo what has been written by Himawari22 and Marc. There are some companies and agencies in Japan which demand "native-speakers" - usually Japanese - to tranaslate the documents. That in itself is not unusual, since there is a misguided but widespread theory that being a "native-speaker" (of source or target language) necessarily means it is possible to translate any text and non-native-speaker cannot do so however well-trained or proficient in the languages concerned. What makes the attitude by the companies mentioned above particularly distasteful is the unfortunate and unfounded belief in the uniqueness of Japanese as a language from all other languages, hence no "foreigner" can translate from or into Japanese. It is of course nonsense and indeed because of such views, the quality of J > E translation (and E > J), on occasions, has been utterly ghastly. There is a lot of scope for good quality translators to work in the J > E market, especially for those whose English is excellent, so please don't be timid; go for it.

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