Some time ago, in my mid to late twenties, I decided I wanted to be a 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 alone 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 because we were immersed in French all day, every day. By the time I graduated in the twelfth grade, I was often debating, writing essays, doing presentations, and of course reading academic materials in French. I could do all the advanced things cultures do in a language, so I considered my level to be advanced.
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.
I took Japanese university classes for three years. I studied on my own like someone covering to a new religion. I even moved to to Japan! Yet Japanese was often overwhelmingly difficult. Sometimes it felt like I’d been walking down a road for so long, then realizing I’d been walking in the wrong direction. I invested so little 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. I was more wrong than a man shopping in the bra department. Being a long term learner of Japanese is like jumping into a pool then realizing you’re in the middle of an ocean. You have no idea how deep you are until you almost drown. Then an octopus tries to pull you under by your legs, just before you’re harpooned in the spine by Japanese whalers.
I realized I may not be flawless in Japanese, but I’m certainly good enough to be a Japanese to English translator. I think I’m better than a lot of the competition I’ve seen. 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. My problem was confidence. I thought I had to be just as good as a native Japanese writer at Japanese, and just as good as an English novelist at writing in English. Such a level is ideal, but I think there are few who have this skill set. You just have to be better than the competition.