Can all the readers who can’t speak or read in Japanese fluently put their hands up? If you’re here, chances are you’re interested in Japanese music and enjoy listening to bands who do not speak your native tongue. From the video subtitles, international editions of lyric booklets, interviews, to the posts on Jrocker’s social media, Japanese translators have been behind the scenes to make them all accessible for those of us who do not speak the language. An absolute godsend.
Today we have Afaenia and Dorian who are the JROCK NEWS in-house translators, and we’ll be finding out more about the work of Japanese translator and how they got there. If you’re looking for some advice in pursuing a career in translation, see what they have to say.
Please introduce yourself!
Afaenia: Hello hello, I’m Afaenia! I’m a native English speaker living in Japan who is originally from London, UK. In terms of qualifications, I passed the JLPT N3 a few years ago, and thanks to COVID-19, I haven’t been able to try my hand at N2 just yet, though more time to study is never a bad thing!
Dorian: Hey guys! I’m Dorian, a big visual kei fan and D’espairsRay lover from France. I’m obviously a French native speaker, but I also speak English and of course Japanese, that’s why I’m here! I successfully passed the JPLT N2 level last December after more than six long years of self-taught learning, including a year living in Japan.
How did you get into translating? What motivated you initially?
Afaenia: I never intended to translate for a living, but I have always enjoyed languages! My Japanese language learning didn’t really start in earnest until I moved here, so it was a big adjustment to be using it daily. Eventually, my skill level got the point where I wanted to do more than just talk about bands with friends and figured I could help spread the word and get the news out in English to other fans via JROCK NEWS, so I applied, and here we are.
Dorian: When I started learning Japanese, I didn’t plan to become a translator. Seven years ago, I woke up and told myself “one day, I’ll go to Japan”. A few trips later, my Japanese improved so I wondered if I could offer my language skills to support others while facing new challenges and keeping improving my Japanese. JROCK NEWS came to my mind naturally and a few e-mails later, my life as a translator began.
According to some of our industry friends, they said that simultaneous translators have the most difficult and perhaps underappreciated job. What would you say is the most difficult part of your work?
Afaenia: Interpretation is definitely the most challenging aspect! I will say though, that interpretation is not the same as translation. Not having access to your tools that you would in a less time-constrained environment, like dictionaries, and trying to keep the conversation as smooth and understandable as possible, whilst not making mistakes is very difficult.
Dorian: Reading between lines, I guess. Firstly, because bands may sometimes talk about things that only true fans can fully understand. Secondly, the context is absolutely essential in Japanese. It’s partially related to the job, but working without your mother tongue is a noticeable extra difficulty as well.
The job does sound scary especially if you are new to the work, how do you build confidence for it?
Afaenia: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. And don’t be afraid to ask for feedback or second opinions on your work. Learning a language is a constant process—there’s never going to be a day when you don’t learn something!
Dorian: In my opinion, the more you have confidence in your language abilities, the less scary the job will be. Would you be afraid to dive into the pool if you knew how to swim?
On a regular day, what do you have to typically translate?
Afaenia: Including my work for JROCK NEWS, I usually translate band announcements, comments, information pertaining to releases. I’ve also had the opportunity to translate lyrics, interviews, and help with subtitling video content!
Dorian: Since my translator activities are mostly focused on JROCK NEWS, I usually translate interviews and bands’ announcements. From time to time, I have to transcript interview audio recordings as well.
In the other interviews in this series, we asked everyone what their three main tools are for their job. What are your three secret weapons for translation?
Dorian: Jisho which is an online Japanese-English dictionary with a great database, Rikaichan the browser extension that is very useful when wild kanji appears, and a Japanese native speaker. It sounds horrible, but when you feel helpless in front of a strange word despite the countless amount of research, they are lifesavers—until you notice that they can’t read that particular word either. [Laughs]
Afaenia: Dictionaries—I use a combination of three or four bilingual dictionaries online, as well as solely Japanese dictionaries, and resources where Japanese speakers are looking for explanations about English terms. Two monitors, as it helps to be able to see everything in doing at once! And much like Dorian, native Japanese speakers! [Laughs]
How would you rate your job as a translator? What do you like or dislike about it?
Afaenia: I love being able to convey information about various artists to people who support them, whether I’m a fan of their work or not. I’m so happy to be able to provide this service to folks who otherwise wouldn’t be able to understand announcements from artists they like. Whilst music is a universal language, unfortunately, Japanese isn’t, but we work to make that barrier as low as possible! The one thing I don’t like is Keigo (formal Japanese), and I’m sure a lot of Japanese speakers feel the same way! [Laughs]
Dorian: Learning a language is an endless task, therefore translating is a great way to encounter new words and improve your skills. I also feel closer to my favorite artists by reading their own words, and I’m even happier contributing to help create a “bridge” between them and their non-Japanese speaking fans. There is nothing particular I dislike in the job, but translating things from artists you have no interest in is obviously not as exciting.
What was the most difficult translation job you took? What made it difficult?
Afaenia: Interviewing Hizumi was probably the most difficult. It was my second time interpreting and I was sitting across a table from Hizumi himself, who I’ve never seen perform live at the time, let alone sit less than two metres away from, so I was incredibly nervous! But, he was very kind and very talkative, so whilst difficult, it was a really great experience!
Dorian: Now I look at it again, I don’t think it was the most difficult one I took, but for me, it was at least the most challenging—Janne Da Arc disbandment. This was actually one of my very first missions as a JROCK NEWS member, it was horribly long and full of details regarding ka-yu’s tumultuous case. My baptism of fire, for sure.
[Laughs] You learn quickly when you’re thrown into the deep end, right? What has been the weirdest phrase or word you’ve come across so far?
Afaenia: I don’t know whether it was just a gap in my knowledge, but my mind was blown when I learned 真空管 (shinkuukan) which means “vacuum tube”. It’s specifically in reference to guitar distortion. As a word on its own, it makes a lot of sense, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around it in relation to an instrument. I guess I still have a lot of technical vocabulary left to master in English as well as Japanese!
Dorian: There are probably tons but now the only one I can think of is more cute than weird. ハコ (hako) which means “box”. Usually, we write it 箱, but from the mouth of a Japanese musician artist, ハコ refers to a “live house“. I don’t know if it’s a well-known private expression, but it blew my mind. [Laughs]
What are your thoughts on language learning apps like Duolingo and Rosetta Stone? Do you have recommendations for any other apps?
Afaenia: For beginners, I think they’re great for getting a basic idea of vocabulary and phrases! I personally haven’t used any, but if you’re interested in learning Japanese, getting a handle on hiragana and katakana is a must! I’ve heard good things about LingoDeer.
If you have suggestions or tips for learning Japanese?
Afaenia: Once you have the basics down, I found that learning things related to areas I was interested in was helpful in improving my fluency and vocabulary. Play to your strengths, too! If you enjoy talking, try and practice speaking either online or in real life, and if you prefer learning from books or apps, find resources that work for you. There are so many excellent free and paid resources out there!
Dorian: This might not work for everyone, but my secret weapon since I started learning Japanese is writing my own Word document that includes absolutely every single word I’ve ever studied. Gathering information from various sources, building it step by step in my own personal way—this process greatly helped me in my studies. Sharing it would be totally useless though, it’s really about creating it. Just for your information, it’s about 300 pages now!
Our readers ask if it’s difficult to find jobs as a translator? How did you approach it?
Afaenia: I have a regular day job right now that isn’t translation-related but where I do mostly speak and work in Japanese, however, freelance work is readily available. Much like other services where you decide your own rates until you’ve built up a portfolio of work that speaks for itself, it can be quite difficult to earn enough just freelancing. Full-time positions and agency work do exist, but they can be a little harder to get!
Dorian: It highly depends on your expectations. Building a translator genuine career is a long and difficult road as it’s very competitive, but if you consider it as a hobby you won’t have trouble finding a place to share your abilities through volunteering.
If you could give some advice to someone who is looking to become a translator, what would you tell them?
Afaenia: Don’t stop learning and read a lot in both your source language and output language. Having general knowledge of what’s going on in the news and social media-wise in both languages, or more, if you’re multilingual! It’s useful in more ways than one!
Dorian: Simply be passionate about Japanese or any other language. And again, don’t be afraid to offer your services for free at first, the experience you will get through it is invaluable!
Thank you to both Afaenia and Dorian for parting with their insight and experience, and a big thanks to all of the work they do.