Becoming Japanese>Engilsh translator - should I go back to school?
Thread poster: shisa

United States
Jan 31, 2014

I taught English in Japan for several years. Recently, I started considering a career switch to Japanese-English translation, but I'm not sure if my Japanese is currently good enough. My Japanese is good for life in Japan. I helped coworkers translate speeches and articles. I passed JLPT N3, but nowadays I'm probably at N2 level, and I plan to take N1 in December.

Should I go back to school? If I am really serious about making this my career, is there a really good intensive Japanese program that would boast my Japanese and get me ready to enter the field?

Are there any good entry-level or gateway jobs for Japanese-English translators? Am I better off studying on my own and getting a job which uses my Japanese? Maybe something that would let me try some lower-level translating and gain experience before jumping into translation headfirst. A position that would let me gain experience in a translation specialty field (medical, automotive, legal, etc) would be ideal.

On a side note: What is the best specialty for Japanese-English translation? I have heard medical translation is popular, but I have also been considering specializing in automotive translation.

Let me know what you think. Thanks!


LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:44
Russian to English
+ ...
Have you ever studied Japanese at a university level? Feb 1, 2014

You definitely need a very advanced level of the source language to translate from it, so I think, you should work on your Japanese, rather than waste time on any translation courses at this stage. Maybe they have some university Japanese courses--just advanced Japanese. It is not enough, in my opinion, to know the source language just from having learned it in a country where the person lived for awhile, unless someone lived there for 20 years and also took some formal language courses.


xxLecraxx (X)
Local time: 08:44
French to German
+ ...
At least N1 Feb 1, 2014


I agree with Lilian. I would say: at the very least JLPT N1 in order to consider a career in translation from Japanese. N1 (~B2 level) isn't that high, either. So your level must actually be a lot higher than the minimum requirement for JLPT N1. JLPT N3 or N2 (~B1) to become a translator are definitely not enough.


United States
Recommended Japanese study programs? Feb 1, 2014

Thanks for feedback.

I formally studied Japanese for about 2 years at university. While in Japan, I took a distance learning course for several years. I also do a lot of studying on my own.

So what is the best way to boost my Japanese up to translation level? I agree that N1 is probably the minimum for Japanese-English translators. I probably would benefit from a taking a high level Japanese class at an American university (maybe the classes for 4th year undergraduates). However, unless the university has a really strong Japanese program, I doubt they will have something for me after one semester.

I was considering an M.A. in Japanese, but I feel like this would mostly involve me doing obscure research on the Japanese language, rather than just focusing on improving my own Japanese ability. Am I wrong about this? Also, if I was going to commit 2 years to studying Japanese, I would rather do it in Japan.

Is there a good intensive Japanese study program (ideally in Japan, but the USA or distance-learning might be okay) that would get me ready to become a Japanese translator? I wouldn't mind investing the time/money into it if I thought I would be able to start doing translation after I walked out the door.


xxLecraxx (X)
Local time: 08:44
French to German
+ ...
Japanese at uni Feb 3, 2014

shisa wrote:

I probably would benefit from a taking a high level Japanese class at an American university (maybe the classes for 4th year undergraduates).

You should already be past the level taught in Japanese classes for fourth year undergraduates of Japanese studies. Having a degree in Japanese (Japanese linguistics) myself, I confirm that the level of Japanese taught at Western universities is comparatively low and usually not sufficient to start translating. I don't think things are a lot different in the US (I'm in Germany). In my opinion, you would be better off learning on your own, in an intense fashion and as much as you can. I don't think you need a school to learn a language.

If money is not an issue, you can then study translation in Japan at a translation school. Or at Monterey's.


Patricia Bowden
Local time: 08:44
Member (2013)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Learn Japanese in your field of specilization Feb 3, 2014

Having an N1 will always look better to a potential client than an N2, but I don't think it's a requirement to be a translator in terms of skill.

With that said, based on the information that you have provided, I would say that focusing on improving your Japanese should be your main priority for now.

After you improve your language skills, you should also consider focusing on a specific field as well. Language courses tend to teach general Japanese but in translation you need a specialization. So if you want to specialize in medical, I would try to find a course where you can learn some medical terms. If you want to specialize in chemistry, try to take a chemistry course or certificate program. This will help you learn Japanese that is specific to your field of specialization AND introduce you to resource materials that might otherwise take you a long time to find. It would also help to take a similar course in English so that you can learn the writing style of that particular field.

I worked as a project manager before I became a full-time translator and I can say, with 100% confidence, that you will not get work on your language skills alone, even with an N1. PMs look for knowledge in your specialization. If you do not have that, they will look for significant translation experience in that field. If you do not have either, you will have a tough time getting work.


James Hodges  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:44
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
Japanese Language Options Jun 21, 2014

The more responses you get on this thread, the more opinions you will receive. Unfortunately, that is the nature of the beast.

With regard to improving your Japanese language skills, I would suggest that you need to find a way back to Japan (if you are in the US). Learning a language in a classroom surrounded by an environment in which your native language is spoken can only go so far. Ideally, you should be learning the language and using it on a day-to-day basis outside the classroom. Case in point, yours truly did some Japanese language courses overseas before making the decision to pursue postgraduate study and a career in Japan. My understanding of the language increased dramatically once I was actually living here.

On the issue of language qualifications, I would say that you don't necessarily need JLPT Level 1 to start. Indeed, the purpose of the top level of the exam is to prepare overseas students to study in Japanese universities, it isn't designed to put them on the road to becoming translators. In my own experience, I have met folks who have the top level of the exam but they cannot translate even relatively simple texts. On the other hand, I know folks with a wealth of life experience in Japan who have a firm understanding of the language. I suppose it is a case of different strokes for different folks.


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