My Experience in Media Contents Translation

For today’s guest article, we’ll be featuring information from Ai-Lin, a Master’s student who has been working with a translation company in Japan on media contents materials for several months now. She writes a bit about her experiences as a translator, the process of getting hired, and how translation requests are handled at her company.

Photo by Mike Poresky

Introduction to my translating experience

As the title of this blog implies, I’m sure a lot of us have been asked the question, “Japanese Studies? What are you going to do with that?” For me, it’s always been a hard question to answer, and with the last year of my MA degree coming up, it’s been weighing on my mind. I’ve been considering many areas of employment, including translation. I’ve taken courses on translation at my university and I’ve always wondered what it would be like as a profession. But the problem was, I didn’t know how to go about finding translation work, and many employers also require at least a year or two of translation experience.

This past year, I studied in Japan at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Studies (IUC), and while I was there, I happened upon a great opportunity. One of my instructors knew someone at a company who was looking for people who could translate keitai-rennai games (Romance games for cell phone applications) from Japanese into English, and asked me if I’d be interested. I’ve played some love simulation games before and was interested in translation, so of course I jumped on the opportunity get some experience and cash. I contacted the company, took the translation trial, and was accepted.

The company I’ve been working for, Lapin, is small, but it’s been in the publishing and editing business for a long time – particularly with translating English romance novels into Japanese. Recently they’ve begun translating and editing contents media (smart phone applications, games, etc). With the expansion of their network of business, they’ve been getting an abundance of requests from clients for things such as the translation of romance games. Therefore, they’re always in need of more native English speakers with a strong knowledge of Japanese. Of course experience with games and an interest in romance novels is extremely helpful. I have been taking on translation jobs for them for five months now. Not only have I been translating, I’ve also compiled and edited a few translations that were done by other translators.

For those who don’t know what “romance games” are, they are similar to love simulation games in that you become the hero/heroine of a story and you choose a character within the game to be your “love interest.” Then, like in a visual novel, you follow the storyline with your “love interest” and make decisions which affect the outcome at the end. For example, you may be a girl who gets to marry prince charming or you may be a pirate who goes on adventures with the one you love.

Taking the trial and becoming a translator

Now I’m going to explain a little more about the translation trial and the translation process. Please keep in mind that these are my own personal experiences with one company, so the trial and translation process might be different depending on your employer and type of translation work.

When I first contacted Lapin, they asked for a resume and when I would be able to take the trial – of course, all correspondence and files are in Japanese. There is a three day time limit for you to complete the trial, starting from when they email the files to you. The first file gives an explanation of the trial itself and cautionary points such as using “” for quotation marks instead of 「」, and writing “I-I’m” or “Y-you’re” instead of “I’m I’m” or “You’re you’re” when a character stutters. The second file is a reference sheet that lists characters names, places, rules, etc. The third file is the script of one chapter of the game itself, with a highlighted section that indicates the portion that you are asked to translate. There is also a link you can use to play a free version of the game you are translating. Using the information at hand, you type your translation into a separate document and email it back to Lapin within the time limit. Then, Lapin will send your translation to their client (usually the game company who is asking for a game to be translated) who has their native English staff read and access your translation. After about a week or so, the client will tell Lapin if you have passed or failed the trial and send your translation back with notes. Then Lapin will relay that information back to you.

If you pass, you will be able to translate and edit for Lapin and their clients right away. If you fail, don’t be disheartened! Lapin may still put you in a team with other translators who passed the trial and ask you to do translations of smaller projects. You can also ask to re-take the trial at a later time. Once you become a translator you will have to sign a contract with Lapin and they will explain their line of work in further detail to you. If you live near Tokyo they will ask you to come to their office, but if you don’t then you can ask to meet with them over Skype. Lapin has many translators with different backgrounds and different situations, so they will work with you to write a contract that works for you. For example, when I was studying in Japan my contract was written according to what I was allowed to work under my visa, but now I am back in America so my contract was extended and rewritten.

In most cases when a new translation project comes up, the contact person at Lapin will email me with a translation request and give me general information about the game, how many Japanese characters or lines the translation is, what the deadline is, and how much I will get paid. When I accept the job, I am given the documents electronically along with more specific instructions and notes from the client. Each translation job I have done has had a different format (word vs. excel) and different requests for the translation, so it takes time and attention to detail to learn and complete the work. However, whenever I had any questions or problems I was able to get in touch with my contact person and resolve them. You might be in charge of several chapters of one game on your own, or you might be collaborating with a team for a translation project, so the ability to work both independently as well as in a team is necessary.

When you complete your translation, you will mail the documents back to Lapin who will send it to the client. You should expect to get paid about a month or two after the final deadline.

Things to consider when translating romance games

The game scenarios I’ve been given to translate so far have included a wide range of things from pirates, to vampires, to ninjas. But with each job, the main things to think about were:

  • the way the characters speak
  • the setting
  • game lingo
  • sounding natural in English

I’ll explain each point in turn using a ninja game I’ve been working on as an example. Let’s start with the first point, the way the characters speak. In each game, the player chooses one “love interest” from about 3 to 8 options. For example, in the ninja game the heroine can choose between the strong and silent one, the smart and kind one, the boyish and playful one, among others. Each character corresponds to his or her own “type” and all the characters are likely to appear in the story, even if they were not chosen as the “love interest.” So when you translate, it’s important to keep those types in mind so that all the characters don’t end up sounding exactly the same. If the strong and silent type says “sorry”, the smart and kind type might say “I apologize”, while the boyish and playful type might say “hey, I’m really sorry!” Also, some characters may have regional accents in the original Japanese, and it becomes up to the translator to decide if they want to leave it or if they want to localize it and use some kind of accent in English.

The setting is as important to think about as the characters. For the ninja game, the Japanese itself was not difficult but there were parts of the story I just didn’t understand when I first read it in Japanese because I don’t know anything about ninja history or what kind of rules ninjas had. In cases like this, you just have to do your own research and find out as much about the topic as you can so you can accurately translate it into English. Even if what you research doesn’t directly have anything to do with what the characters are talking about, it will help you get an idea of how things should sound or be overall. But just because the characters don’t live in our time period, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to write like it. In fact, for the ninja game, I was asked by the client to avoid making the characters sound old fashioned, but I couldn’t use a lot of new slang either. However, for a pirate game I worked on, some of the characters used pirate lingo – it just depends on the needs of each game.

Another thing to consider is game lingo. Most of the translations I have done so far were only the story scenarios, but some clients also ask the translator to translate items related to the game design. For example, some games have many features such as changing the character’s clothes, or gathering items, or making friends with other players online, and you might be the one who decides what phrases to use in English, such as “continue” or “you’ve found an item!” If this is the case, it is always best to play the game itself to get a hang of the flow of play as well as to know what actually happens on the screen when you find an item or make friends online.

The last thing, and possibly the most important, is sounding natural in English. Many native English speakers who take the translation trial fail because they were too caught up in translating every single word of Japanese that it sounded strange and unnatural in English. More detail is not necessarily better, especially in cell phone games where the space on the screen is limited. It is important to balance translating the meaning of the Japanese with how we would actually say something in English. For example, a literal translation vs. a more natural translation might look like…

“Suddenly, his eyes were shining at me, like a naughty child who had just thought of some mischief.”

“Then, his eyes twinkled mischievously.”

The first sentence translated every word from Japanese into English, but it is long and awkward. The second did not translate every word, but it is concise and captures the meaning and the atmosphere of the scene. Most importantly, it sounds like an English speaker. Also, it is important to keep in mind that people who play cell phone games vary in age from teens to people in their thirties and people are usually playing when they’re bored or trying to relax. So you will want to translate concisely, with language that anyone can understand and enjoy.

In conclusion…

In my short time with Lapin, I’ve had ups and downs, but it’s been a great learning experience and I hope to keep translating for them. Of course, it is important to have good communication, organization, and time management skills to complete a good translation by the deadline. But I’ve learned that you need to know how much are you capable of doing. You can in constant contact with the people at the company, but for the translation process itself you have to be able to manage and motivate yourself. For example, I once made the mistake of taking on a job that was too big for me to handle because I didn’t take the time to get a good look at what it was that I was being asked to do. I was able to resolve the situation by contacting Lapin, who gave me a slight extension of the deadline and found me a few other people who could take some of the translation work off my hands. Once I’d learned my lesson, I was able to balance the job with my school work. Also, I think I should mention that Lapin is relatively new to translating contents media also, so they are more than willing to hear our opinions and suggestions about how to handle these translations and make communication between clients and translators better. Overall, I’m glad that I was able to take on this opportunity to get some translation experience. It’s really allowed me to make use my language skills, get a better understanding of what areas I can improve on, as well as network for the future.

Lapin is always looking for more people who are interested in translating contents media and romance games into English (and now other languages such as Korean and French), so if you think you have the skills and drive to try it out, take a look at the attached flyer and feel free to contact them directly!


Ai-Lin Sui is currently a MA student at the Center of Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan. She earned her BA in East Asian Studies with a focus on Japanese literature at Washington University in St. Louis (2009) with a minor in Biology. She was a Native English Teacher for the AEON*Amity Corporation in Kobe, Japan (2009-2011).


About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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2 Responses to My Experience in Media Contents Translation

  1. Pingback: Resource: Translation Workshops | What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?

  2. Pingback: Resources: Translation and Interpretation | What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?

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