Thoughts on Japanese Translation

In my late twenties, I started thinking more seriously about becoming a professional translator. I was always surrounded by multiple languages. I was raised by an English speaking mother and a French speaking father. My father usually spoke to me in English when we were together, but we often switched to French when around his family. Bilingual families like this are common in northern New Brunswick, Canada.

I also went to a French immersion school. In my first grade of elementary school, all of my classes were in French. Slowly my classmates and I were able to speak and think in French through immersion. By the time I graduated in the twelfth grade, I was often debating, writing essays, doing presentations, and reading academic materials in French. I could do all the advanced things cultures do in a language.

After graduating high school, then entering university, I had to take a language credit. Rather than continue French or take a creative writing class in English, I decided to start a whole new language. I was exposed to Japanese through video games at an early age. When I realized that most of the games I liked came from Japan as a teenager, I gradually became interested in the country. I thought if I were fluent in Japanese, I would be able to understand my favorite games in their original forms and I’d have access to more content that was never released in English.

I took Japanese university classes for three years. I studied on my own like someone converting to a new religion. I even moved to to Japan! Japanese was often overwhelmingly difficult. I invested so little effort in learning French but just sort of became fluent. Japanese on the other hand… I thought five years of serious hard work would be enough. After studying Japanese for ten years, it felt like I had jumped into the deep end of a pool—then realized I was actually in the middle of an ocean. People said my Japanese was good, but it felt like I had drowned to get here.

I think I’m good enough to be a Japanese to English translator now. I think the native English Japanese to English translators who do solo translations are in short supply. I should’ve gotten into professional translation earlier. I start to feel confident, then some niche article in Japanese, that most Japanese people can’t understand, takes away all of my confidence. I sometimes think I have to be just as good as a native Japanese reader at Japanese and just as good as an English novelist at writing in English.

So, here I am, not sure which way to swim. If I stay still here, I’ll drown. I have to pick a direction and go. I hope I meet some help along the way to shore.


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