A Brief Introduction to Becoming a Translator

by Kanan Sawa

There are a lot of interesting movies and novels in the world, such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. So that everyone in the world can enjoy these movies and novels, we need to change the words. Therefore, there are many translators in the world, such as English to Japanese, Spanish to English, or Japanese to French. One day, I heard from someone that we can choose a translator job as a side business. I got really interested about it because I could improve my English skills and give dreams to Japanese children through children’s books. However, becoming a translator is not easy.

Your Career

There are basically three kinds of translation jobs: business, literary, and media translation. The majority of translation jobs are business translations. Domestic companies which have some connection with foreign companies need business documents, contracts, and manuals translated. There are many kinds of businesses, so translators need to have special knowledge and know many technical words. Literary translators translate novels and children’s books. They need a high literary sense in Japanese because they must think about the characters in addition to translating the text. Moreover, the have to be adjusted to the age of readers. Media translators mostly translate movies by adding subtitles. They also need a good artistic sense and often have to adjust sentences to a proper length.

The working style of translators is really flexible. Business translators can be divided into office work and home-based work. Basically, you need to register with a translation company if you want to work at home. However, you must pass a test before you can register. Literary translators and media translators receive their work from production companies and work at home. For business translators, there is part-time work available, but only if you belong to a translation company. On the other hand, literary and media translators don’t have any opportunities for part-time work unless you are very famous or have extremely high skills.

There are several ways to become a translator.  If you want to become a business translator, you should go to school for the translators and register with translation companies. After you learn skills and gain experience, you can become independent. You can also belong to a company that has translation jobs as a part-time worker and work as a part-time or full-time translator. However, even if you register with translation companies, it does not mean you can get a job. Therefore, you should save enough money. Literary and media translation work is not easy to find. Usually, you need to ask teachers to introduce you to someone from a production company or get a job by winning a translation contest. You can also work in a movie distribution agency and watch for a chance to get a translation job. You don’t need a special license or qualification, but there are few opportunities to get these in Japan anyway. Taking the translation skills test, which is a national qualification, is your best chance to getting a job easily.

To become a translator, you need to have several skills and be a person who works very hard. You must have good Japanese and foreign language skills, and you need to understand everything when you read documents or literature. Secondly, you need good research skills. When you translate in a special field, you have to research to learn special words and knowledge. Third, you need good time management skills. If you cannot keep to deadlines, everyone would get in trouble because of you. The type of person who can become a good translator is a person who concentrates on their work and is eager to learn more. Translators must learn new things from each job every time.

The salary for translators is quite good. For business translation, it is normally around 1,300 to 2,500 yen for one A4 page. However, if the documents need special knowledge, the salary is sometimes around 3,000 yen per page.  If you have higher skills, the salary will be higher (from 2 to 3,000 yen). For literary translation, the salary is different depending on the book. Usually, three to eight percent of the price for the book is a royalty, so their salary is a book’s royalty times the expected number of copies it will sell. For media translation, the salary also depends on the work, but it is around 5 to 10,000 yen per ten minutes of the DVD or TV program. If you translate a movie, you could earn as much as 500 thousand yen.

To conclude, there are some part-time jobs in business translation, but not in literary translation. Therefore, it is not a good idea to do translation as a side business. Business translation is comparatively easy to find work in, but literary and media translation is really hard to get, even if you have been studying at school. In the course of my research on this career, I have learned that translators are truly hard workers.

Kanan Sawa is a fourth-year student in the Dept. of British and American Cultural Studies.