Language for a Living

Language for a Living

There is something intangible about the work of a translator. Some may wonder whether translating even qualifies as working. During my student years, on more than one occasion I was approached by a Japanese friend who would ask me to translate a wall of text into English, “because you speak the language, don’t you?” Even as a professional translator, my prospective clients are sometimes startled when I tell them it might take more time to accurately translate a text than it took them to write it. Experiences such as these made me think a closer look at the work of a translator is in order. Let’s start with the obvious: you can be sure that any translation job that exceeds the complexity of a shopping list will be deliciously bungled by Google Translate. Let’s have a look at what Google makes of the following Japanese sentence: Japanese: 青春の輝き、熱き若者たちの挑戦 (seishun no kagayaki, atsuki wakamonotachi no chōsen) Google: “Youth of shine, challenge of Passionate young people” I will not bother you with the Dutch translation, which ended up even more creative because Google first translates Japanese into English before the end-user is shown the final translation in Dutch. The Japanese sentence itself poses an interesting challenge. It is the subtitle of a television series and captures rather typically the importance concepts such as nostalgia and youth hold in the hearts of many Japanese. I would translate the sentence as follows: Iki: “The power of youth – fearless youngsters on a mission” Even without further context, the general emotion behind the subtitle shines through. In an actual translation, aided by a footnote or two, I would go...
The Japanese Are Human Too

The Japanese Are Human Too

“Japan… the people over there are completely different, right?” When I talk about my work, this is often the first thing people ask me. I do not mind the question, as it often comes from a place of genuine interest. However, because the phrase often carries with it several assumptions, it makes for an interesting topic to kick start our first Ikiji. Oftentimes, when classifying Japan as a nation, people who do not interact with the Japanese on a daily basis end up on one of two sides of the spectrum. Japan is either an infertile radioactive wasteland where people jump in front of trains every other minute, or the country is praised as a mystical and spiritual place where people have a higher understanding and appreciation of life, as witnessed in abstract concepts such as bushido (the way of the warrior). These characterizations are about as accurate as saying that I, as a Dutchman, can be expected to go out every weekend smoking copious amounts of marijuana while waiting my turn in the red light district. Afterwards, I will make a brief stop at the hospital to euthanize grandma so I can attend my uncle’s gay wedding in the evening. While the above stereotypes are rooted in reality to an extent, they tend to be grossly exaggerated. In order to understand Japan – and what it means to do business with the Japanese – it is important to realize that people are people. We all strive mostly for the same things, but have different ways of going about it. Japanese people laugh, cry, and behind a veil of...