Japanese translation business
Thread poster: vieleFragen
Local time: 12:12
Mar 4, 2005

Hello. I've always wanted to do a job where languages are key, but I've always been told that translators' pays are pretty low and that the work isn't exactly fun either to put it mildly.

I'm really interested in learning japanese though and I've found out that translations for japanese to english or japanese to german (german is my mother tongue) were usually paid about twice as high as translations of other language pairs.

But then again I've been told that translating from japanese into another language takes a lot more time than translating between two european languages...but I was told that by a non-japanese translator..and I don't really see why it should be this way, unless of course the translator didn't speak japanese well enough.

However my main problem would be, that I'm not a native english speaker and thus would probably have to focus on japanese-> german translations which are rather rare (the ratio of supply and demand isn't that bad, but I'd most likely to translations into english, too). However I'm confident in my english language abilities, especially as I've never been in an english-speaking country before (I learned french and english mostly through self-study and have hardly ever had the opportunity to speak it; not yet at least).

Anyways my question is: Is it usually easy for a japanese-> english translator to work fulltime (as a freelancer) only doing translations in this language pair or do a lot of you have difficulty acquiring enough jobs at times?

..and does anybody no if having your work checked by a native proofreader takes away a lot of the income?

Moreover I was wondering whether japanese-> english translators first translated the kanji into a romanized writing system to make their work a bit easier? It's not like I wouldn't want to learn the kanjis or anything, but..well I was just wondering if that was possible, because I heared you could use hiragana and kat..(?) to express everything that's expressed by kanji...

One more thing I'd like to know: How many pages can an experienced j->e translator usually translate on an average working day..let's say a 10 hours working day..with a little lunch break

Thank you so much for your help!

P.S.: If I made any mistakes don't hesitate to correct them!

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Momoka  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:12
Japanese to Spanish
+ ...
My two cents Mar 4, 2005

Hello, Viele.
To tell you the truth, I don't really think I'm the right person to "answer" your questions, since I'm NOT a Japanese-English translator, I live in Japan, and I don't know how things work abroad when it comes to that kind of translation. I don't have a lot of experience either, but as you some years ago I was new to the job, and needed a lot of information. Ilooked for it, a lot of what I found has helped, and that's why I'd like to share it with you.
Currently I'm working as a freelance Japanese-Spanish translator.
I also teach, since so far I haven't found enough work as a translator, I think mainly because of the few demand of translations into Spanish around here.
It seems here in Japan translation is not something many people make a living at; it's not that there are not translators who can, it's just that most of them work only part-time, for a lot of reasons.
As far as I've heard, 80% to 90% of translations made are between English and Japanese; the rest, "other languages". Many of the translations are made by Japanese nationals and proofread, edited, checked, by native speakers.
When it comes to the time it takes, I can translate 5 to 6 pages from Japanese into Spanish in 8 hours, depending on the subject, amount of unknown words and "hard to understand sentences", etc. I hope someday I'll get faster...guess will have to study more Japanese and get myself a good traslation software. And yes, I think it takes more time than doing translations between European languages, maybe due to the fact that grammar, word order in sentences and the way to express thoughts and feelings differ at least from those of English and Spanish. There is a process of deciphering more intense than that I need when translating between those languages.
As for Kanjis, it might be useful when learning Japanese to rewrite them into hiraganas or katakanas, but I think it's a waste of time and a lack of Japanese language knowledge (translators who use this technique please do forgive me about this if I'm wrong) when it comes to a translator.
As for rates, since translations between Japanese and English are so common, they are the cheapest (in general terms); translations to and from other languages tend to be a little more expensive. I'm not giving rates here since they vary from agency, translator, type of work and so on...and I don't think prices in Japan would be of any help to you.
To finish I can only wish you the best of success in your Japanese studies; that will be of course the first step. Once you're there, I think you'll find your way.
Best regards.

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Peter Coles
Local time: 11:12
French to English
+ ...
Answers to questions about Japanese translation Jun 29, 2005

Hi Viele

Here are my thoughts about some of the questions that you ask.

Japanese to English transalations (and probably the other way around) are much slower than say French to English, not because of the translator's knowledge of Japanese, but simply because the two languages, and their associated cultures are so different. Japanese frequently expresses ideas, nuances and cultural references that don't even exist in western languages, but they are part of the meaning of the original text and so we need to try to find a way to express them without overburdening the resulting tranlsation with excessive explanation. This takes time.

When translating from Japanese I would never, ever produce a romaji version. In fact I never use romaji. Although you are right that everything written in kanji can also be written in hiragana and katakana, this would not be a good idea for several reasons:
1. It would take a lot of time to do and time is money.
2. Although hiragana and katakana can represent the sounds of the kanji, many kanji have the same sounds, particularly those with similar meanings. If you convert them to (usually) hiragana you will lose sight of the original kanji that you need to produce an accurate translation.
3. It takes longer to read a text in hiragana than in kanji because there are many more characters and no clues as to meaning and again, time is money.

You should also know that although translation rates for English to other languages are usually based on the number of words. Rates from Japanese are often based on the number of characters i.e. kanji.

A word on learning Japanese, as it seems that you are either at a very early stage of your studies or still investigating it, achieving fluency in Japanese is incredibly difficult. American research suggests that it takes roughly four times longer to acquire than would an additional European language. Most people give up. In addition, I personally doubt that it would be possible to gain the cultural, social and country knowledge needed to translate to the level needed to make a living from it without living in Japan for some considerable time.

Finally, I want to congratulate you. for somebody who has not spent time in an English-speaking country, your English is very good. However, a word of caution, although it is very good, the sample in your question is far from that needed for a professional translation. Indeed most native English speakers can't achieve this level. This isn't just the case for English. I have a 1st class honours degree in French Studies, but would never translate into French, as although I understand it extremely well, it is very difficult to write well in a language that is not your mother tongue.

I'm sorry if this seems a little negative in places, but you seem to be considering a career that would require a huge commitment and it seems only fair that you should appreciate the scale of effort needed. Nevertheless, I hope that this hasn't put you off and wish you every success.


[Edited at 2005-11-10 10:07]

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Aaron Schwarz
Local time: 19:12
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Japanese translators May 30, 2006

Peter Coles wrote:

However, a word of caution, although it is very good, the sample in your question is far from that needed for a professional translation. Indeed most native English speakers can't achieve this level. I have a 1st class honours degree in French Studies, but would never translate into French, as although I understand it extremely well, it is very difficult to write well in a language that is not your mother tongue.

Interestingly, translators in Japan are surprised to hear that those in other countries DO NOT try to translate both ways. I hesitate to say that it is due to over-confidence because many of the translators I have met have somewhat of a complex about their English not being good enough, but they definitely seem to take it as a given that if you can go one way you can go the other,.........and thus the birth of the re-writer:)

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