>>2019.10.26: >>
 

TRANSLATION JOBS

Here's how I went about becoming a Japanese to English translator and getting my first translation jobs. First off there's a few things you need to know:

1. You don't need a university degree or to take any language tests to be a translator. The company you apply for work at will give you their own tests, if any. If you need a degree it's most likely for work VISA purposes (thus the government's requirement to get you a work VISA, not the company's actual general hiring policy) and stuff like that. If they want a language test it's actually only proof that you're at a good language level, which you can prove to them in your portfolio, translation test and cover letter etc anyway (see further below), and once you have work experience in general they'll just look at that instead. 
 
However, obviously, a person just starting out as a translator who has a degree will seem more impressive than a person without one.
 
PLEASE NOTE that even if you ARE getting a degree in Japanese, the European/American average is that a Bachelor's gets you to JLPT N4 or N3 level, and a Master's gets you to N3 or N2 level. This includes extremely "elite" British/American universities. A Bachelor's in Sweden/Finland gets you to N2 because their school systems are different.
 
2. "Professional translator language level" is by no means as high as "native adult speaker level". In reality it's about the level of a native junior high schooler (C1 or JLPT N1 level), sometimes even a late elementary schooler (B2, JLPT N2) and extremely rarely you can even get jobs when you're below that (B1, JLPT N3). You can get hired at B2/N2 level, it just depends on the company what they want, but generally speaking capital cities (Tokyo etc) want higher skills.
 
For example, I analyzed a manga series by VIZ and the English translator appeared to be at B2/N2 level based on where they left out details/sentences and changed/misunderstood grammar. That same series switched translators at least 4 times, and currently only the most recent translator seems to be N1.

3. Each company has their own "translation style" as well as formats for giving you the stuff that's to be translated. For example, in some companies the main translator doesn't translate sound effects and/or doesn't localize the text, in other companies one and the same translator does all that. In some companies you're "not supposed" to use slang, informal language or nonstandard spelling etc. to render stuff like dialects in the English translation because "some readers find it hard to read" or "we don't want to teach kids to spell that way", in other companies this is encouraged because "it gives the same feel as the original Japanese". And in some companies no one checks over your translation other than yourself, so even stuff like obvious typos in your English go uncaught.

4. In general there's different types of translations, the main 3 being:

• Things where "as long as the info gets across, it doesn't matter how you word it". For example, paraphasing the important info from a nonfiction text for someone who's writing a historical novel, or translating Amazon product descriptions for someone who's selling the same items on Ebay.

• Things where "it doesn't matter if you reword it, it just has to sound nice in the end so it'll sell". This is usually fiction, manga etc.

• Things where "you have to word it exactly like how it is in the original, as closely as possible". This is stuff like medical texts, scientific papers and fiction from very fussy authors or mangaka who constantly reference lines from past and previous volumes of their manga etc.

Depending on your personality, it's easier to do one or the other. I for example actually have an easier time doing direct translations than localizations because it means I don't have to think to reword everything, but some people are natural "localizers" and change the wording no matter how hard they're trying to stick to the original text. The genre matters too, because while you "can" translate slice-of-life manga meant for elementary school girls, if what you "actually" enjoy is sci-fi or hardcore porn you should try to get a job with that instead. You're gonna work faster, better and longer (both per day and at that company overall) if you enjoy it to the point where "work" doesn't feel like "work".

5. If you don't read and write fiction (of any kind - manga, novels, etc) and historical texts (pre-WWII era things, etc) then you won't be a good translator, although most translators aren't especially good anyway. Basically, good translators know at least a little bit about different writing styles (because you need to know a lot of varied ways to word a sentence in order to fit the original language's sentence structure or meaning better), slang, dialects, historical slang etc.

For example, a lot of people are under the very mistaken impression that like every sentence ever has to have clear pronouns inserted in English so they just "guess" and add in ones that were never mentioned when translating from Japanese, because they can't think enough to realize we don't actually need to word it that way in English:
 
"Did you do your homework yet?"
"Nooope"
"Why not?"
"Don't wanna"

Ends up in most translations as:

"Did you do your homework yet?"
"No didn't"
"Why didn't you?"
"Because don't want to do it/my homework"

I can't tell you how many times I've seen mistakes in manga that simply came from stuff like this. 30% of the time when the translator ends up inserting pronouns etc in needlessly, they end up picking the wrong one. As a real-life example from the manga "Golden Kamuy":

Original Japanese: Deserting, eh.
Official Translation: What, are you abandoning us?
 
Ignoring that they turned a statement into a question (which is very common in manga translations), the following lines and the character's personality in general (that we know more clearly in later volumes) make it obvious that he doesn't consider himself as part of their "group" in the first place (thus "us" doesn't make sense) and that he was actually talking about the other guy abandoning a search for gold. If they had just thought harder and realized they didn't need to insert the pronoun "us" in there (ex. "What, are you deserting?"), this mistake would've been avoided.
 
6. Expect not to hear back from companies no matter how good your portfolio and credentials are. Just don't think about it and move on to applying for the next company instead. I've been told by an insider that big companies in America will actually find and hire scanlators instead of people who apply to them properly, because it's easier to make someone work for peanuts if you can blackmail them saying "well you were doing illegal scanlations".
 
ONLINE JOBS

Currently (2019) every manga/anime translation company I looked at where you could work for them online and from abroad (VIZ, Crunchyroll, Fakku, Amimaru, Medibang, Yen Press, Curious Factory — some of them also accept Japanese to Russian/Chinese/French/Finnish etc translators, and accept cleaners as well as translators) that had any info up about the work at all, was set up as a part-time job that required you to do a minimum of 200 pages a month. Some people online at Quora / Yahoo Answers claim they're required to do 200 pages in 2 weeks.

If you live in California, Tokyo or select other places you can find translation jobs at physical locations, and I suppose those might be full-time jobs that pay more.

Salary varies by company, but according to forums ones like from the above companies all pay an average of $1-2 USD per page. You don't get anything like royalties from each copy of your translation that sells, and you're not a "real" company employee (you're doing contract-based work) which means you can't ex. work at home for a couple years then transfer to the company branch in Japan.

A lot of people work at a part-time manga translation job like this at first, then after 2+ years (having built up their "work histories" and credibility) create their own manga translation company. Then when they hire other translators they run it in the same "contract-based part-time job" system as above and the cycle continues.

For example: 

When just starting out in early 2019, I was at a low C1/N1 level in understanding Japanese, and on average (depending on the chapter or manga) it took 10-30 minutes to translate 10 manga pages, then another 10-20 for the second draft. This was for adult-oriented manga (ex. "Golden Kamuy") without pronunciation help on kanji. Overall I averaged out to 30 min per 10 pages to get the finished product. When tired or sick I take 2-3x longer to translate. Generally speaking, a full-time job is considered to be 40 hrs/wk and part-time is 20.

If 10pgs (1st + 2nd draft) = 30min:

$1/pg, 20hr/wk: $1,600 USD per 4wks (=1 month)
$1/pg, 40hr: $3,200

$2/pg, 20hr: $3,200
$2/pg, 40hr: $6,400

If 10pgs = 60min:

$1/pg, 20hr/wk: $800
$1/pg, 40hr: $1,600

$2/pg, 20hr: $1,600
$2/pg, 40hr: $3,200

If you instead do things at the slowest pace and take a full 2 weeks for each 200 pages, you'll probably average out to around $500 to $1,250 USD per month. Also remember that the salaries are before taxes and bank fees

Think carefully about how many hours you can actually do in one day without burning out. 20hrs/wk is 3 hours a day if you include weekends; 40hrs/wk is 6 hours a day. According to professional translator forums, most freelance translators only work 3-4 hours a day in order to not burn out, from what I've read. If I enjoy the manga, I can translate 4 hours a day without even feeling tired. If I don't enjoy the manga, I'm tired after 20 minutes.

JOBS IN JAPAN

There's plenty of JP-EN (and even for other languages, such as German, Chinese and Finnish) manga translation jobs in Japan, but you have to search for them in Japanese, already be in Japan, and go in person to the physical interviews. I searched for them anyway just to see what the requirements were like. In Japan, "translation" jobs are also called "localize" or "localization" jobs.
 
The average job in Japan is always full-time and at a physical office. On top of your salary, paying for your commute is normal. 50-60 minutes of break time is included in the total daily working hours, so "9 working hours" actually means 8 working hours + 1 break hour. Basic company parties/outings such as hanami are standard.
 
Tokyo: (Manga / Videogame translation work)
 
English level: TOEIC 600-700 points or more (roughly equivalent to B2/N2 I assume)
 
Base salary: ¥1,300-2,240 (average: 1,800) and/or ¥10-20 per sentence. Some jobs pay you the "per sentence" salary on top of the base salary, but most only pay the base salary.
 
Daily work hours: 7.5-9 (average: 9). Average is 5 days a week, though some jobs have you work 6 days.
 
Overtime: 10-20hrs/month ("10 = almost no overtime!")
 
Experience: "Inexperienced Welcome!" is average, but within the "experience wanted" ads "1 year's worth of translation experience in the same field" wanted is normal.
 
Environment: Some workplaces have you basically working silently all day and have you wear formal clothing, others are into having you socialize and you're allowed to cosplay.

 

Tohoku: (Office Mail / Customer Service translation work).

You can see a job search here. Even if it says "factory work" what they generally mean is "translating office mail to/from overseas customers".

English level: TOEIC 600-700pts or more / "business or conversational level".
 

Base salary: ¥1300~2100.
 

Daily work hours: 8-9 hrs, 5 days a week.
 

Overtime: 0-10 per month.
 

Experience: "Inexperienced Welcome!" is average, but within the "experience wanted" ads they want Word and Excel skills.

TRANSLATION TESTS

All companies have their own tests. You may be asked to translate a full chapter or half a chapter as a test, or even half a full volume. You may be asked to translate specific speech styles or follow certain grammar rules.

CV / RESUME / PORTFOLIO
 
I assume this goes for all jobs, but it goes double for translation jobs. People do not want to see, and will not look at, your CV/resume or any kind of text description saying you "can" translate and what your qualifications are. You instead need to show concrete examples of different types of translations you can do.
 
Frankly it doesn't matter if your portfolio only has 3 short examples the first time you send it in somewhere, you should send it in anyway. I got a smaller company interested in me even when I only had 2 short story samples and 1 manga sample. When making my portfolio, throughout the week I just added one new sample each time I sent it off to a new company.
 
Just try to add a little bit to the portfolio every day, like "today I'll add a song sample" or "today I'll add a nonfiction sample". It's easiest if you do this stuff from things you just happen to find online anyway — like your friend links you to a news article or something you can translate a paragraph out of.
 
 
FINDING FREELANCE WORK
 
Currently (2019) your easiest and biggest bet is "fans of random stuff on Twitter and Tumblr that you yourself are interested in". Make fan accounts solely for the types of things you're going to translate, and reblog those things as well as post translations. For example, if you like GLBT manga, that's what your account's about and your translations will be in some way related to that (special edition author's comments, product announcements etc). If you like Old Norse mythology, then your account's going to be all about that instead. If you have no real special interests then I guess you should translate stuff relating to everyday life in a foreign country that speaks the language you're translating from, then "weeaboos" "ameriphiles" "nordic buffs" etc will flock to your account. In order to get followers just be your normal, approachable fan self, don't "follower-monger"!
 
The translations don't have to be long. They don't have to be polished. But you have to get them out there and get people viewing them. Sign up for a standard donation site (like on "ko-fi" - a lot of people don't want to use PayPal directly because they find it "confusing" to send money through it due to needing to pick an option for what kind of donation they're giving) and make sure your info blurb on your Twitter/Tumblr states that you accept translations commissions.
 
When you translate something, put your donation or commissions link at the top of the translation (like in the summary of what your translation is in the first place), because people don't read or notice it if it's at the bottom. In my case I also write how long the translation took me to do ("time spent: 20min + 10min rereading/proofreading" etc). For Twitter I use a site called "Privatter" which lets you post longer stuff that you then link to, and you can also view the hit counts on them and edit the posts later once you catch any mistakes.
 
If you see people on Twitter going "oh I wish I knew what this said!" just comment going "Hey I'm a translator, I can translate it (if you pay me ;D)" and see where it goes.
 
In getting donations or freelance work you can't predict who will like what or who has money to throw at you. Hit counts aren't everything either. As an example, out of around 200 views on one of my translations, I ended up getting 1 ko-fi donation of $3; on a totally different and much longer special-interest personal project that I figured almost no one was even reading, I got a donation of $21. What this means is, don't be shy about what you post, don't limit yourself in what you translate based on what you think "is popular", etc.
 
As a beginning freelancer I price my stuff based on a guess from the "industry standard" I've read elsewhere, and just adjust how I do things based on "hey, that was actually way more time-consuming than I thought" or if I magically start getting too many commissions to handle. I also take two major shortcuts to save time in the freelance ones whenever possible, which means: 1. I don't capitalize or write period marks in the translation, 2. I abbreviate character names or copy-paste in character names when marking who's saying what, 3. I write the translation into a copy-paste template that looks like this ("1" means "panel 1", etc):

pg1
1 (character name goes here):

3 ...
 
pg2
1
2 ...
 
Generally speaking, people contacting you for translations on Twitter etc. usually only want a few pages.
 
I use an OCR tool on novels, fix up the text then put it into OmegaT (free software for translators), which can save a glossary and suggest similar lines that you previously translated etc and assumably makes the work go faster overall. Frankly OCRing and correcting the OCR takes a ton of time.
 
Remember that the average Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook etc person thinks it's amazing you can speak this language at all and they'll accept your translation even if it's kinda weird, slightly wrong or even slightly incomplete. The average reader is never going to read or compare the Japanese original, and that's why most translators are actually skilled in "localizing" and "glossing over stuff they didn't understand" instead of translating. Of course, do your best to look everything up and even ask someone else for help when you don't know something, but in general one of the nicest things about freelance work is that individual people are more forgiving and grateful than companies are. Also be honest and note when you think a line is iffy or when you couldn't find something out, people always really appreciate honesty.
 
There's also freelance sites out there where you can sign up and apply to random translation work submitted by individuals, but so far I've never found a single one worth using. The jobs are few, probably not geared towards your specialty, and both the sites and people putting up the job ads  do their best to scam you out of your money (for example "only the first 2 people who attempt to translate this might get paid — as a site rule. And the pay is below minimum wage". Or "I didn't pay you because Google Translate didn't agree with your translation." Considering Google translates "loincloth" to "hiphop", you don't want to have to deal with that).
 
So I believe freelance sites are useless, but what they ARE good for is seeing what kinds of translations people want, so you can go create samples of the same exact type of thing to put in your portfolio.
 
If you want to translate fiction, other than finding out of copyright stuff on sites like Aozora Bunko, if you can translate INTO Japanese (or have Japanese friends who write), you should join a bunch of sites like Pixiv, PillowFort, LiveJournal, DreamWidth, the NaNoWriMo forums, etc, anywhere that indie authors hang out, join their communities and then just start asking people if you can translate their stuff for self-publishing on sites like Smashwords and Lulu (book publishing is free there). Write up a contract ("I allow x to translate my book which is titled y" etc) and get the author to sign it. Translate and publish the book, and then suddenly you have a "real, published book" among your list of translations.
 
Remember, books don't have to be long! If your friends write fanfic, any AU stories can normally easily be turned into original stories, and you can translate those. You can even translate and publish people's school essays. Publishing these shouldn't be done for the money (basically, don't expect any) but they're there to fluff up your work history.
 
Tips for translation jobs:
 
1. Put your portfolio together. I put my first one together in an hour and just sent it off. Don't worry about cover letters one bit, because your portfolio speaks a billion times better than your cover letter and most bosses/agents don't read cover letters anyway (just as they don't read CVs/resumes).
 
I once spent 2-3 months applying to over 200 random jobs in any field I thought I could possibly do, and almost every single time I got anything back or had an interview, it was clear the person had either just barely skimmed my resume or hadn't read it at all, even at tiny companies with only like 5 employees. Nowadays I just write a 2-sentence Email like this:

Title: (TYPE OF WORK) Jobs?
Body: Hi, I don't know if you're (still) hiring or not but if so I'm interested in being a (TYPE OF WORK)! Attached is a sample portfolio.
Thank you for your time,
NAME
 
2. Send it off to every company you can find.
 
3. If you hear anything back, they'll probably ask for you to take a translation test and give you a template or something with "their translation style" to follow. Just do your best.