The start of a translator's journey

5 minutes
951 words

Tags: rant

I wanted to make translations for a long time, but most of what I was interested in translating was already being translated. And none of them were such bad translations that I'd think of sniping the series to improve it. But I've finally found a series that, while it is being translated, it's only the light novel and not the web novel, which is much further ahead.

The series is called Otome Game no Heroine de Saikyou Survival and I liked it enough to have gone ahead to read the web novel even while the light novel's translation was still in the process of being released. I binged it and caught up to the latest chapter in about a week. What can I say, it really appeals to my preferences.

After seeing that the second volume of the light novel is going to be released in a month, I decided to actually go ahead and try my hand at translating. The plan was to practice my skills while rushing to catch up to the light novel translation and then release my web novel translation at the same time as the relevant content of the light novel translation is released. And after the second volume is done, I'd go at my own pace.

So I set up the website and all the related accounts, something that shouldn't have taken longer than two days but I spent too much time fiddling with the website to get it to a presentable level (or more like to appease my mild OCD) and wasted around a week.

After dealing with some real life stuff that keeps coming up at annoying times, I finally started translating the first chapter of the web novel. And here I realised that all my expectations were wrong.

Translating from Japanese to English is actually relatively easy if you're at the level where you can read Japanese with the help of some tools like Yomichan. I've been reading Japanese like that for almost a decade (though with many breaks in between), so "understanding" what I read is quite easy.

Now, the first thing I realised here is that I don't actually translate Japanese into English in my head. I actually read Japanese in Japanese and understand it as Japanese. Kinda hard to explain since it was so natural that I only realised it after trying to translate it into English. But basically, I spent no effort trying to translate what I read into English in my head because I was already understanding it well enough in Japanese.

So when I started translating the chapter into English, I was stumped. I went into it thinking that I wanted to preserve as much of the original meanings as possible. Stuff like using "Onii-chan" instead of "Brother", or the Japanese punctuation that's so peculiar, something that annoyed me a lot when reading other fan translations that decided to change it. But when "translated" like that, it's oftentimes pure cringe. It just doesn't work in English.

While I could spit out a cringe translation that would technically preserve the original feel that I like so much, I realised that it only works when the reader has a good understanding of Japanese in the first place, so in their head they can translate the cringe translation back into a Japanese-sounding mess. This is exactly what I've been doing when reading these sorts of literal translations. What I liked about literal translations is that I could get a glimpse of the original Japanese meanings and intonations. But then, I could just go read the original in the first place.

So while trying to write a natural sounding translation but getting torn apart because of my indecision, I came to the conclusion that I need to commit to one side and do it well. And that's what I did. I chose to make a proper English translation. One that could be read by a native English speaker and they wouldn't even notice that it was originally Japanese.

It took me a while to realise that I was actually reading one translation that was doing basically that and I was enjoying it a lot more than most others. After comparing the original and the translation, I was amazed to find just how many differences I could find, pretty liberal ones at that. It's not like it was completely different, just that the Japanese story felt natural in Japanese, and the English story felt natural in English. Something like that was my goal.

In the process of editing the first chapter to read like a proper English work, I kept constantly researching how to write properly. I spent around three days just reading articles on editing and translation. I was so burned out I decided to procrastinate take a break and read some official translations of light novels to see how they do it. I read a couple volumes and was convinced now that it was indeed the correct choice. Especially for works that don't actually happen in a Japanese setting in the first place.

So the main thing I realised is that "editing" is actually the hardest part of a translation. Making text flow smoothly is way more challenging than just "understanding" what is written. With this my goal of improving my Japanese reading skills is crushed (though I noticed that my new outlook is quite helpful anyway), and my new goal is to create proper English translations. I guess I'm fine with that since I was interested in writing my own books in the future anyway and this is good practice.

Join my Discord server to talk to me and other readers in real time.

If you've enjoyed my work, please consider supporting me on Patreon.