Absolute Zero

October 9, 2007

Translating Games 101

Filed under: Blog News,Games,Translation — throughhim413 @ 12:20 am

I was asked earlier in a comment about where to get started translating games.  It’s a difficult question, and if you asked 100 translators, you might get 100 different answers.  However, I’ll tell you a bit about how I got started and what I recommend.

If you want to translate a game into English, the first thing you need to perfect is not Japanese, but English. I’m not just talking about forming basic sentences and being grammatically correct. While those are important, what you need is to be able to bend words to your will. Translating is interpretation, meaning that the more English words you can effectively manipulate in a sentence, the better. This does not mean, mind you, that you should be using words that you looked up in a Thesaurus. You must be concise, descriptive, and yet eloquent. It’s a difficult balance. So if you’re still in school, take advantage of creative writing classes. They may be challenging, but only when words become your playthings will you be able to express everything as a translator should.

On that topic, I once heard a statement from someone who was working in anime and game translation that I’ve taken to heart.  He said that you should only translate into your first language, not out of it.  I define one’s “first language” as the one they do most of their thinking in.  It shouldn’t be hard for you to figure out.  My first language is English.  So I do translations only FROM Japanese INTO English.  Doing a translation from English into Japanese would not be recommended.  While I could probably do basic meaning, I cannot manipulate Japanese as I can English.  This goes back to the the first point I made: Master the language you want to translate into.

Now that we’ve covered that, let’s move onto the obvious, learning Japanese.

Japanese isn’t a language that I would recommend studying online or without any kind of guidance.  While that kind of study can be effective, I believe that some formal education in Japanese is an important asset for any translator.  The starting place for everyone is hiragana and katakana.  These at least you can learn online.  If you intend to translate games, I would recommend a special focus on katakana.  Many people brush it off as the less important of the two writing systems, but in games, you’ll be seeing it everywhere, so the better you know it, the easier life will be on you.

Now everyone always worries about kanji.  Maybe you don’t know what kanji are even, but let me suggest this: don’t worry about them too much.  Knowing kanji, like vocab, serves just one purpose for a translator.   That is, to increase the speed at which you translate.  But kanji and vocab can easily be looked up in a dictionary.  And you will learn them as you go along.  So don’t kill yourself trying to learn it.  You should learn kanji, but don’t think you can’t move forward without them.  When I first began translating, I had only taken about 6 months worth of Japanese classes and only just started to learn kanji.  Mind you, I had a lot of advanced grammar and vocab knowledge, but it’s not that crazy to just try.

And that’s my final recommendation.  Just try.  I probably shouldn’t have been trying to translate when I first started, but I did.  I kept at it, it took forever, it was hard.  I made a lot of mistakes.  Even now, in my “final text translation”, I’ve found many mistakes I made back then.  But every struggle is a part of what can help you to learn.  I learned so much Japanese trying to translate games.  Well, I could go into more detail about a lot of this, and what I’ve posted has been mostly theory, not true resources for learning, but these are the things that I view as the starting point for someone who wants to translate games.  Perhaps if people are interested, I could post some advanced resources and recommendations with more detail, but that depends if people are interested.

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1 Comment

  1. Umm…Well I for one would like to know some of your advanced resources and recommendations because I am trying to learn japanese so I can finally play my import games and fully understand what is going on.

    Comment by Firesage — October 28, 2007 @ 10:35 pm


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