Nothing is conveyed from mere direct Japanese-to-English translation
- While present day progressions in globalization are seeing continuous increases in requests for translation, this industry also frequently involves “somewhat unfathomable Japanese.” What are the two of you careful about with respect to such issues?
Richard: When it comes to translating from Japanese-to-English, one basic premise is of course “precise translation.” At the same time, we as translators are also required to perform translation that takes into account aspects from the two languages involved such as cultural background, ways of thinking and means of expression. After all, if a translation doesn’t resonate with the reader, then it most likely won’t be considered a “translation” in the true sense of the word, thereby resulting in the efforts behind that translation having ultimately been in vain. Therefore, it is important not only to translate precisely but also to convey the soul and spirit of the original source language.
Ru: One reason that such translated sentences sometimes fail to reach the hearts of their readers is that there are just so many extensive differences between English and Japanese when it comes to grammar, sentence composition and culture. That makes it necessary to carry out finely balanced translation that fully incorporates all of those elements. This, of course, applies to translation of sentences such as those found in advertisements, books and magazines. Documents such as contracts, on the other hand, are more prone to employing translations that are in complete, faithful accordance with the source language.
- You’ve probably also encountered translations with bizarre Japanese and/or English, is that true?
Ru: Oh, definitely. And this is where I feel that clients, amongst other related parties, need to finally recognize that translators are not copywriters. Websites and advertisements, for example, can be thought of as “24/7 continuous working substitutes for human sales/business personnel,” and so translations of these types of sentences have to be both easy to understand and catchy to the eye. Although translators are professionals in their field of translating, however, they are by no means copywriters, and refinement and optimum bolstering of such translations therefore needs to be done through inclusion into the translation process of copywriters who understand English. This is why our company oftentimes conducts translation projects through 3-person collaboration between the translator, a bilingual checker and a bilingual copywriter.
Richard, who currently lives in San Diego, worked in Hiroshima, Japan for 8 years as a translator and English teacher. Richard’s book translation work has included English-to-Japanese translation of the mystery novel “Dark Waters” and Japanese-to-English translation of “Urakami Monogatari (The Urakami Story),” a novel based on the life of an actual atomic bomb survivor.
Ru, who currently lives in Las Vegas, began her career as a magazine writer and founded the translation company/advertisement agency “Ru Communications LLC.” She has written books which include the Japanese language textbook “Let’s Speak Up-to-date Japanese” and the documentary book “Dear Japanese Grandchildren.”
Differences between Japanese and English
- Do you perceive any differences between these two languages when translating?
Richard: One trademark aspect of Japanese sentences that I experience when translating is the vagueness and ambiguity of the language. This is because Japanese has greater omissions of vocabulary and information than those seen in English. There are instances, of course, when even English expresses concepts and matters in a concisely brief and vague manner when necessary. With Japanese sentences, however, conveyance of information, stories, etc. particularly tends to progress in a manner based on the assumption that the reader can read sufficiently between the lines solely with the information already provided. Japanese, therefore, frequently omits sentence subjects and other various forms of information in comparison with English.
Ru: I see. In that sense, Japanese-to-English translation seems even more difficult than translation from English to Japanese.
Richard: Yes, I believe so. Such ambiguity can often lead to a lack of information needed for creating clear, articulate English translations which come across as natural English sentences. This means that translators have to search for the information and intent actually being expressed between the lines in Japanese sentences in order to produce English translations that are both natural in writing style and easy to comprehend from the perspective of readers who are native English speakers. This process of filling in the gaps requires tasks such as a certain amount of guesswork combined with background information searches.
Ru: Hmm, I see. One difference that I sense between Japanese and English is that, whereas English is easily understood even when composed of long sentences, such drawn-out sentences can be very difficult to follow in Japanese. One reason I can give for this is the differences between these two languages in terms of sentence structure. I think we can agree that, in the case of English grammar, the most crucial components of a sentence appear at the very onset of that sentence. For example, with English phrases such as “I go” or “I don’t go,” we know the conclusion of a sentence early on, and this allows us to quickly determine the direction in which the story or subject progresses. In Japanese, however, the verb “ikimasu,” which means “to go,” appears at the very end of the sentence. On top of that, when dealing with the negative form of this verb, “ikima…sen,” meaning “(I)…don’t go,” the reader/listener has no way of knowing whether or not the person in question is actually “going” or not unless they read and/or listen right up until the very end of that sentence. This is why lengthy sentences in Japanese tend to become more obscure and difficult to comprehend.
Richard: Yes, that is a very intriguing point. How do you resolve such issues?
Ru: When translating a long English sentence containing multiple interconnecting phrases/ideas, it needs to be broken down into 2-3 shorter sentences in Japanese to promote easier comprehension. Also, while this is a little off-topic, native English speakers tend to enjoy using the same proper nouns and names repeatedly when making written English sentences, and this holds true in English conversation as well. In Japanese, though, having people call out the same name over and over again by saying things such as “Yumiko is…” this or “Yumiko did…” that only winds up with Japanese readers thinking “Huh? Who?” and getting confused. That’s why we sometimes rephrase such nouns in Japanese with terms like “that coworker” so as to reduce the burdens being placed on the reader’s brain.
- Do you find translation work to be enjoyable?
Richard: English-to-Japanese and Japanese-to-English translation each have their own sets of challenges and difficulties, and occasionally a bit of bewilderment as well (laughter). But using my ingenuity to figure out how to deal with such issues is, to my mind, one of the most appealing things about the field of translation.
Ru: Oh, that’s so true. It can be agonizing trying to find the answers to problems such as coming up with just the right word, finding the most natural expression or figuring out how to emotionally sway one’s readers. But when we do eventually achieve those answers, there’s no greater feeling in the whole world!
Richard: I’ve been doing translation work for a number of years now, but even now I get such a thrill over how rewarding and worthwhile this field is every time I receive a translation job request. Translation is so stimulating and profound, and it’s a constant learning process that goes on without end.
Ru: I know exactly how you feel. For translators like us, our careers are all about pouring our passion into each and every word we translate, so that we can bring happiness and joy not only to ourselves but also to the clients and readers who rely on the work we do.