Specialities for JA-EN translation
Thread poster: Thomas Erwin

Thomas Erwin
Japan
Local time: 04:29
Japanese to English
Nov 22, 2014

I'm thinking of becoming a Japanese to English translator, and I'm curious as to what kinds of specialities (or hyper-specialties) in particular are in demand for that pair.

For the time being I'm excluding law, medical, and patents. I understand they're often especially difficult to get into, and I'm not sure I have an aptitude for them.
I know it's best to pick something you already know about or have a passion for (which in my case would be music, and to a slightly lesser extent literature or film), but I do want to branch out a bit as well so that I could find enough clients.

Is the automotive field promising? Or maybe marketing/business? How about tourism, seeing as the Tokyo Olympics are coming up? These are just some of the other areas I could see myself getting into.

If there are any translators who'd be kind enough to share their opinions, I'd love to hear what you'd have to say. What's popular now, what's becoming more popular, what fields aren't what they used to be, etc. Of course there is of course a lot more I'll have to research myself, but I was just wondering if I could get some insight from those with experience.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:29
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
You can only do a very few thousand words per day Nov 23, 2014

I'm really not convinced that volumes matter to individual translators. If you choose legal then yes, there are enormous volumes; but then you'll be competing against loads of others in that field, many of who will be ex-lawyers. If you choose something more unusual, you'll be a larger fish in a smaller pond. Either way, if you're good then you'll find work enough once you're established.

Bear in mind that the job of technical translation (e.g. automotive) is very different from the one of translating marketing or tourism texts. The latter is often transcreation rather than accurate translation, something many translators aren't happy with. I thought of music myself, as my husband's a singer/songwriter and we move in music circles, but it turned out to be horribly difficult IMO. Maybe not for you though.

Business is often a good place to start: a mix of straightforward jobs to accept and very difficult jobs to maybe turn down for the moment; lots of web coverage; bilingual dictionaries abound (presumably in your pair); vast volumes so you're bound to pick up some jobs to start you off.

Remember we sell our services on our specialisations, but there's nothing to stop us going outside the envelope if we feel confident about a particular text. Often a regular client will ask you to do that, understanding that you're a newbie in that particular area, and it can be a way towards a new specialisation.


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:29
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Ask yourself what you know Nov 23, 2014

kikanshathomas wrote:
Is the automotive field promising? Or maybe marketing/business? How about tourism, seeing as the Tokyo Olympics are coming up? These are just some of the other areas I could see myself getting into.

I suggest you consider the long-term prospects of the industries in which you're considering specialisation. For example, tourism. Japan has always been, and remains, a minor tourist destination for English-speaking nations due both to the distances involved and the perception (often justified) of it being a very expensive place to visit. So realistically, if few English-speaking tourists travel to Japan, how much work will there be for you? The Tokyo Olympics are all very well, but that is a six-week event at most - what's your strategy beyond that?

Take a closer look at what you already know. What can you use? You seem fairly young (difficult to tell from your profile) so you may not feel you have much experience, but be creative. Did you spend a year working part-time in a warehouse while at uni? OK, look into distribution and logistics. Is your hobby films? Consider media, though that might be fairly small for Jpn->Eng. Do you play video games? Have a go at that.

The problem I see with choosing a speciality will be credibility. If you love cars and spend time tinkering with them or racing or something, that will come over in your interactions with others. If your only experience of cars comes from reading Jalopnik, you won't have much credibility. Conversely, if you love video games and can talk about them with authority, you're much more likely to sway people, assuming that you have the linguistic skills to go with it.

Of course, not already having skills or knowledge in an area doesn't mean that you won't succeed in that specialism. Nevertheless, as somebody who has interviewed many, many people - a translator is not an employee but the dynamic of assessing somebody for a role is much the same - I feel that interviewers are looking for some kind of spark, whatever it is that makes you different. If you have competence and that spark, you've got a good chance.

Regards
Dan

Caveat: my experience as a freelance translator is shallow. On the other hand, my experience in evaluating business models that work or don't work is fairly deep.


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Thomas Erwin
Japan
Local time: 04:29
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the replies! Nov 25, 2014

I'm getting the impression that I should try translating whatever comes along and see what I'm what I'm interested in then, rather than trying to figure it all this out now. Business does sound like a good place to start.

Although I can't say I have much in-depth knowledge of any particular kind of translation, I don't expect transcreation would be significantly more difficult for me than straightforward translation. I wouldn't mind working with something that challenges me to write more creatively.

You are correct that I am still quite young (I'm likely one of the younger members on here) and thus fairly inexperienced. To work on that, I'm starting to volunteer my services locally, and I also may start working on Gengo. I intend to use my extra time in the near future to build up a portfolio.

As for my own "spark", what may set me apart (besides my age) is that I'm very passionate about making/performing music and writing songs, both in Japanese and English. My group here in Kyoto just finished our 2nd music video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dCST0uBFTs

I'm not certain how much of the work I would receive as a translator would be relevant to the aspects about music that I'm personally interested in (which is partly why I'm open to the idea of developing an additional specialty), but in general music is definitely something I could talk about with authority.
Also, having lived here with Japanese roommates for years, I figure I know a fair amount about modern Japanese society, popular culture (I'm a big Waratte wa Ikenai fan), social trends, etc.

Anyway, I'll start thinking more creatively about how to present myself, and I'll let you know what I come up with! I'll try to make time soon to fill my profile out more.


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xxxtietzes
Japanese to German
+ ...
subject area Nov 27, 2014

kikanshathomas wrote:

Although I can't say I have much in-depth knowledge of any particular kind of translation, I don't expect transcreation would be significantly more difficult for me than straightforward translation. I wouldn't mind working with something that challenges me to write more creatively.


Give it a shot first. Many translators find that transcreation is too hard, much harder than straightforward translation. It's not everyone's cup of tea! I couldn't do it. For example, I could never translate ads, let alone Japanese ads.


I'm not certain how much of the work I would receive as a translator would be relevant to the aspects about music that I'm personally interested in (which is partly why I'm open to the idea of developing an additional specialty), but in general music is definitely something I could talk about with authority.


You won't be able to make a living as a JP-EN music translator. You definitely need another speciality, but it has to be a speciality you have a certain interest in, since you really need to delve into the subject. Many beginning translators underestimate the importance of in-depth (!) knowledge of the subject area to be translated. It's not easy, you must know your subject area inside out. Many become translators because they are interested in language, culture and so on, but they ignore that in order to become a good and successful translator, the source language itself almost plays a minor role.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:29
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Japanese popular culture Nov 27, 2014

kikanshathomas wrote:
As for my own "spark", what may set me apart (besides my age) is that I'm very passionate about making/performing music and writing songs, both in Japanese and English. My group here in Kyoto just finished our 2nd music video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dCST0uBFTs


Also, having lived here with Japanese roommates for years, I figure I know a fair amount about modern Japanese society, popular culture (I'm a big Waratte wa Ikenai fan), social trends, etc.

It sounds to me as though you'd do well to specialise in contemporary Japanese culture and things of interest to young people. A lot of people in Europe and the US seem very interested in that scene so there must be a need for translations into English. Translating blogs etc isn't normally well paid but if you could get into those strange (to me) comics that are so popular, plus films and music you could do well. And it's certainly an area where you have an obvious background.

Specialising in that field shouldn't stop you taking on any general text you feel capable of translating. Perhaps they would be your bread and butter work, while you build up your portfolio of specialist translations and become known in that field.


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