Lessons Learnt as a Beginner Translator

Happy International Translation Day! Yes, September 30th is International Translation Day, a day when people all over the world celebrate translation in all its glory. A quick look on Wikipedia reveals that this has been going on since 1953 and always falls on the 30th SeptemberĀ the day of the feast of St. Jerome, the Bible translator who is considered the patron saint of translators.
As I am only new to industry I felt like sharing my lessons learnt as a beginner translator. These are mostly from mistakes I’ve made over the last year rather than from my MA in Translation, but I hope they’ll help other new Japanese translators and/or people looking at becoming a translator, even if it’s as a hobby.

  • Don’t just jump in.
    By this I mean, don’t just start translating without reading the source text in full. This is because you might not completely understand the full text, which means it will be a LOT harder to translate. Jumping right in without reading all means you run the risk of word-for-word translation, and that’s bad.


Japanese manga translation cho no michiyuki

  • Re-typing the source text really helps you understand it.
    I’ve found this is especially useful with manga, but re-writing the source text in Japanese really makes you focus on what’s being said, and understanding it in the context of the Japanese language. This is important as there might be culturally specific phrases, or strange accents, and typing them out will help you understand what’s being conveyed.


  • Do not translate word-for-word.
    As a beginner this was a pit fall I fell into more than once, especially if I was unsure of what was being said. This caused a lot of mistranslating incidences because Japanese does not directly translate into English. A good way to avoid this is to translate the meaning of the sentence or the paragraph, convey the point that’s being made. If you’re unsure what it says then ask a Japanese person or a fellow Japanese translator (which you can do through ProZ, Linkedin and Translators Cafe).


  • Don’t make 1 or 2 drafts. Try and make up to 5-7+ drafts.
    TheĀ biggest mistake I constantly made was translating it, and handing it in after only one or two drafts. Because I didn’t proof read and try to polish the translation I got very low marks and even lost a few job opportunities. This was my own mistake as I was often too eager to get a translation finished and handed in. On my final project (a 6000 word translation) I learnt from my mistakes and created about seven drafts, refining the translation each time from one that was a bit more of a direct translation, to something that sounded like natural English (as if it wasn’t a translation).


  • Get as many people as possible to read it.
    Not only must you read it, but try and get someone else to read it before you send it off. Ideally someone who doesn’t know Japanese, because when they read it they’ll pick up on sentences and words that don’t make sense, but that you think is fine because you’re used to that type of wording in Japanese.
    A really helpful person to read through is also someone who specialises in that area. One of the most useful proof-readers for my project (an academic translation) was someone with a large academic background, as she picked up on a lot of items that were not-natural to English academic papers.

Lessons learnt as a beginner translator

These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learnt over the last year learning translation. Are you a professional or ammeter translator? What lessons have you learnt doing translation and working in the translation industry? Please feel free to leave a comment below.


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