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Some questions regarding working as a fulltime translator


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Hello there, I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask this kind of question, if not I apologise in advance.

A bit of background about myself:

I'm a guy from Italy, who a few years ago, tried to learn japanese self taught metod. I started learning hiragana and katakana from japanese-lesson(dot)com, printing both kana tables and making exercises from that site. Since then I tried to read a few visual novels and I was able to read about 40% of them, while looking at new words to read, and lazily picking up the most common Kanji I've encountered while reading.

After having a few troubles digesting the grammar, numbers and the more complex stuff, I found a japanese teacher who was teaching japanese for various kind of people, ranging from those interested in the language, to those who wanted to learn it in order to travel to japan. At one point I even started translating one visual novel made with the kirikiri engine, just for fun.

At one point in my life though, I suffered of heavy depression, which hit me like a truck, and made me stop from going forward with learning japanese (to be honest, it made me stop living altogether, rather than just japanese, but that's OT). 

After seeking help, I'm slowing trying to recover, and moving on with my life, which made me decide to start this topic, and hopefully find some answers to my questions.

I'm not extremely young anymore, but I have always liked to translate stuff, especially games, reason for which I'm reconsidering starting from anew, learning from scratch japanese, but I'm a bit lost on how I could make a career/profession out of it:

1) For anyone who is an official translator and working for a company (or freelancer?), could you please, enlighten me on how the whole process works? Do companies such as mangagamer and so on recruit translators themselves, or do they outsource them?

2) Do you work from home, I.E. smartworking?

3) Do you use some tools while translating?

4) How hard can it be to find a job as a translator?

5) Which JLPT certificate rank is necessary to work as a full fledged translator (I.E: would N3 be good enough, or are N2/N1 a must)?

I might have some other questions, but for now these are those off the top of my head.

Thanks in advance to anyone willing to answer my questions (or simply explain the process to me)!

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1. I am not an official translator but I know some stuff about the business. Mostly on the indie/VN end, not 8-4 or squeenix or whatever level. Most weeb media companies, esp for VNs, work near exclusively with contracted freelancers. There are some exceptions, but those want you to live in the US or Japan. Most companies avoid agencies for niche media; shiravune/johren is a kinda cringe exception. Nobody really wants to hire an agency, it's more expensive.

2. Contractor positions are usually remote. Full-time positions are usually onsite and usually somewhere with crazy cost of living (cali KEKW).

3. Depends a lot on the place. You might be working in Word for LNs, in Google Sheets for a lot of stuff, or with actual CAT tools (especially translation agencies seem to do this, but you don't really want to work for them if you can help it since you usually don't get credited and have an NDA).

4. Actually can't comment since I've never sought employment. It depends a lot on your networking skills + actual abilities... regrettably (twitter bad for you unless you heavily curate) a twitter presence can help here.

5. ...Usually you want at least N2 level proficiency for a translation job. This doesn't mean you need to have the JLPT pass, many smaller companies care less about this than your performance on translation tests. Anyone company takes people at lower skill level than one able to pass N2 is probably a shit company, yes offense. Apart from Japanese ability, English (target language, but English is in the highest demand) writing ability is also important.

In general, translation has different components and some of them are hard to learn without actually translating yourself. As such, starting in fan translation is advisable. One risky "in" with translation companies for visual novels is to do a fan translation and sell it to the company. Note that the translation has to be good enough that the company wants to take it, and that you'll likely need to stall and piss off your fans as negotiations progress if you have gone public, plus you need to resolve tensions in your tl group etc etc. If you work with this goal I would be upfront about it to any member that wants to join.

It's hard to recommend becoming a weeb media translator if you have any other prospects. The pay is bad, the job security precarious, the outlook grim (machine translation will increasingly be getting """"""good"""""" enough that companies will be more and more tempted to cut costs and do MTL post-editing rather than real translation, with shitty but good enough results). But if you choose to let the void gaze also into you, I can only wish you luck.

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First of all thanks for your reply, I truly appreciate it.

I'm kind of sad after reading so much, but you pretty much nailed my fears regarding this kind of job. Considering that I'd liked to make a career out of it, but chances are pretty slim and the pay doesn't sound good etc, I'll try to pass on this and try something else, while trying to re-learn japanese as a hobby.

Thank you so much for taking your time and explaining how the translation word works, which while a bit sad, opened my eyes a little bit.

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  • 3 weeks later...

You can totally make a career out of it. Especially if you know italian. Do it like us and kick off an effort to promote VNs in your own national region. It took us on-off five years, but the tendency for the German market to consider German translation has majorly increased to the point where we just finished founding a translation company last weekend.

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