Monthly Archives: January 2016

Response on “Candy Candy: Final Story” prologue and notes about translation

In early December last year, I wrote a blog entry which contained my personal, unofficial translation of Candy Candy: Final Story‘s prologue that I had worked on in my spare time. Recently, someone nicknamed Beautiful Illusion had discovered my post and written a blog entry discussing it, especially how it has the potential to be an “unbiased translation”. I also received a comment from someone (Candy Bert) asking if they could translate what I wrote into French. In this post, I’d like to respond to those two things and talk a bit about translation in general.

First, a little background for those who aren’t too familiar with Candy Candy. Without giving much of the story away, I’ll just say there are critical parts of the story where there is some uncertainty as to which character is being referred to. This is done using the expression “あの人” (ano hito), which is means something like “*that* person”.

It turns out that the Candy Candy fans are divided into several camps, each of them believing the “ano hito” is referring to a different main character. I was aware of this, however I hadn’t heard about it until after I finished reading the book. What learned from Beautiful Illusion’s post was that these various interpretations of the story were actually reflected in Candy Candy fan translations that were available throughout the net. In other words, these translations were written such that took some of the vagueness out of the original work and made it more clear who “ano hito” was. I haven’t read any of these, however, so I can’t give more detail than that.

The central point of Beatiful Illusion’s article about my translation was that my translation might be the first “unbiased” translation of that work, and this is especially important because there is no official translation.

My general stance on translation is to preserve the original work’s meaning as much as possible, while making adjustments as needed such that the audience can properly appreciate and understand things. While this may sound simple, it is can actually be very challenging, especially when the audience may not know critical cultural elements required to understand the story completely.

However, in the case of semantic uncertainty behind “ano hito”, my translation philosophy makes it very clear what to do: leave this uncertainty intact as much as possible, using terms like “that man”, or “he”. The only reason I can safely use “that man” in place of “that person”, is because the story makes it very clear it is a man being referred to. I haven’t decided completely, but I think “my darling” might be a good candidate.

While there are those who have said the author of Candy Candy misstepped by making things overly vague with respect to “ano hito”, that debate is totally irrelevant to a proper translation of the work. Since the author intended to make things vague, a correct translation  would have to preserve that vagueness. It really surprises me that someone would actually let their personal feelings effect their translation to that extent. However, these translation are all unofficial translations, so anything goes. And yes, mine is just as unofficial, except that it may be a little less biased than the others. It’s important to note that even some official translations may actually have some bias from the translator’s point of view, but that would only be appropriate if the author and/or publisher requesting the translation was (explicitly of otherwise) in agreement of those changes. For example, I can see changing the story in certain cases if someone important feels that it would make more money. I don’t actually know of any translation that has done this, but I think it’s possible.

Regarding the questions from Candy Bert: I am fine with anyone linking to my translations, however please make sure you say they are unofficial. I do request to not use excerpts from the translation via cut-and-paste, the reason being is that I still consider it as a work in progress, and may go back and edit it at any time.

Candy Bert also asked whether it is OK to make a French translation of my English translation. I am against this for a few reasons. The first is that, as I said above, it is still a work in progress and may change at any time. However, a more important reason for me being against this is that when a work is translated twice it necessarily has a higher risky of meanings being changed and becoming more distant from the original. To understand why, just think of the traditional game “telephone” which is played in the U.S.

If someone really wants to spread the unbiased translation in French, I’d instead recommend reading through my translations and comparing them to the available French one(s), and make a list of items that are different. Alternatively, I’d suggest finding someone who knows French and Japanese well enough to make a direct translation without going through English. I can just about guarantee that will yield a better unbiased result.

A further reason that I request that my translation is not translated into another language is that any fan translation itself is inherently in a grey area, since there is by definition no proper permission from the relevant publisher involved. If I were to receive a notice from the copyright holder of this material, I would remove it from my blog immediately. However, if someone were to translate my translation, I would no longer have control over what is done with this. So please don’t translate it (:

In any case, I’ve only done the prologue so far, which is a very small fraction of the entire work. If you would like me to continue my unofficial translations, please like the prologue translation post and help find other people to do the same.

Finally, I’d like to thank Beautiful Illusion and Candy Bert for their feedback about my translation. It’s good to know some people who speak English are still interested in Candy Candy.

The bridge of translation and “yoroshiku onegaishimasu” (よろしくお願いします) in Japanese

Doing translations between Japanese and English is always an educational endeavor, teaching me so much about Japanese and language in general.

One thing that I’ve been thinking about lately is how one can be reasonably skilled in two languages, and yet translating simple phrases can be so challenging. I’ve seen this happen even when I feel I am very comfortable with the original phrase in Japanese and have used it many times myself.

I think a great example of this is the phrase “よろしくお願いします” (yoroshiku onegaishimasu). This happens to be one of the very first Japanese expressions I learned, and it happens to be notoriously difficult to translate to English. In fact, the Goo Japanese to English dictionary has a very awkward translation of this phrase and mentions that “this type of thing is not said frequently in English”.

The components of this phrase are actually quite simple to explain.

  • よろしく:  comes from よろしい that very roughly means “good” in the same was as 良い (yoi/ii)
  • お願いします: polite form of the verb 願う (negau), which roughly means “to wish” or “to request”

Going a bit deeper, the Japanese to Japanese dictionary actually lists several meanings for よろしく, but this one is the most applicable to here:

  • 人に好意を示したり、何かを頼んだりするときに添える語
  • A word that is can be added when you want to express goodwill to someone or when you are requesting something.

So if I were to make a somewhat literal translation of “よろしくお願いします”, I’d say something like:

  • I request you treat me well.

The “me” part is not explicitly stated in the original phrase because objects and subjects are often omitted in Japanese.

In case you are curious, the awkward translation I referred to in the dictionary is as follows. It’s of a slightly longer phrase so I’ll give that first, followed by their translation:

  • ひとつここはよろしくお願いしますよ
  • I hope you will take a favorable view of my position in this matter

(Note: that I’ve never heard or seen this exact Japanese phrase used before, and the simple “よろしくお願いします” is much more commonly used)

In any case, what ultimately matters is when this phrase is used in practice. Here are few situations where it can be used:

  • When greeting someone for the first time (may be prefixed with どうぞ)
  • When starting a game or sport with someone (we always said this at the beginning of Aikido class)
  • When making a request or asking for a favor

In order to make a proper translation of this, you would have to figure out what situation it is being used in, and then think of a matching English phrase. In the first example (greeting someone for the first time), you can generally use “Nice to meet you”. But what I wanted to talk about is the last case, when you are making a request. Recently I saw this phrase used at the end of a business email and was unsure how to translate it, despite the fact that I had a pretty good grasp of what it meant.

The first English phrase that comes to mind is something like “Please help me out here”. Although this is vaguely close to the Japanese meaning, I feel the tone is a bit too informal. Saying something like “I request that you help me out” is more polite, but still awkward.

In cases like these, usually the fastest way is to just do a bunch of web searches and look at possible translations until something fits. What I eventually settled on is:

  • Thanks in advance

Even though I had used this phrase in English many times myself, until I stumbled upon a site discussing this I hadn’t thought of it.

This expression is a bit interesting because it is thanking someone for something that hasn’t occurred yet. But if you think about it, the meaning matches up pretty well with “よろしくお願いします” in the scenario where you are saying it at the end of an email where you are making a request.

I’m not going to make the claim this is the best translation in all scenarios, but it reasonably conveys the meaning of the phrase and would probably be OK in a majority of cases. For a bit more politeness, you could try something like:

  • I really appreciate the help.

Of course, if you are part of a company or group, you might switch “I” for “We” here.

I’ve heard that just because you are bilingual doesn’t necessarily make you a great translator, and I completely agree. Even if you can understand and express yourself naturally in a variety of situations in both languages, bridging from one to another is a totally different ballgame. It requires a good understanding of not just the source text, but also information about the context, and even a bit of creativity. Sometimes when there is no direct mapping you just have to do your best, breaking the literal meaning just so you can get across the general point with natural language.

Impressions as a new translator for Gengo.com (professional translation services)

In previous articles here and here, I wrote about the testing process required to become a “Standard” level translator working at the online translation site Gengo.com. Fortunately, I was able to pass the translation test I discussed in the second article, and shortly after I started taking on my own translation jobs during my end-year vacation time. In this article I’d like to give a detailed look at what it’s like to be a Gengo translator. I’ll be talking about my own experiences translating from Japanese to English, but most of this should apply to any two language pairs.

One of the first things you’ll notice when you join is you’ll have access to a series of short training lessons, in the form of PDFs, which walk you through the basics of working at Gengo. They cover topics such as how you review your work, make compromises during translation, and basic tool usage. What I loved about these was that they were very skillfully written, using easy-to-understand images and comparisons to real-world activities (like traveling) in order to communicate their material.

When you log in, there is a list of jobs which you can review and accept if you decide to attempt to translate them. The number of jobs available at any one time ranged from six or more to none at all. However, since I did this during a holiday time where many Japanese people are off work, I think the average number of jobs was probably less than usual. The length also varies significantly, from a few words to tens of pages.

The content also varies greatly across jobs and included everything I could imagine (and more): business communication, marketing materials, blog posts, recommendation letters, and even some things of a personal natural. Reviewing and performing these jobs really showed me a slice of Japan I hadn’t seen before, and made me feel this was the perfect thing to continue my Japanese studies.

However, I shouldn’t make it sound like I was doing this just to study Japanese and Japanese culture; this is a real job which effects real people’s lives, and must be taken very seriously. For an awkward, but technically correct translation, the reader can just accept it as an error with the translation process. But an error where the translation looks natural but the meaning of the original text is significantly changed can have disastrous consequences, from everything to someone not getting a job to much worse.

As a rule I didn’t accept any jobs that I didn’t understand fully, although there is a way to decline a job after you have accepted it. Gengo says it is safe to do this once in awhile if circumstances require it, but if you do it frequently you can run into trouble. I think their biggest concern is they don’t want people trying to hog jobs for themselves when there is a possibly they can’t finish them.

Besides the diversity of the jobs, the time limits were also a pretty big surprise to me. To give an example, jobs with a few hundred words can have a time limit of one or two hours, roughly speaking. The thing about this time limit is that it is hard, meaning that if you don’t finish on time the job gets returned to the queue for another customer to pick up. Gengo.com’s documentation says you can ask their support team for an extension, but I have never tried that and not sure how feasible it is.

An hour or two may seem like a long time, but even in a relatively short passage, if the material is hard enough, or contains words that are hard to translate into natural English, the time can go by pretty fast. One of my jobs for a few hundred words took me at least two and a half hours.

You can use email or their RSS feed to get notified when new jobs get in. This is critical because they can get snatched up pretty quick by other translators. At least two or three times I had clicked “accept” on a job, only to discover it had been taken seconds ago. This creates a tricky situation, since you want to review the job properly before you accept, and yet if you take too much time the job may be taken, resulting in your time wasted. Actually, I’ll take that back; if the job contained significantly difficult Japanese, I’d argue just the act of reading it and starting to look up words (before accepting it) is a very valuable experience on its own.

I actually take this to the next level and even start translating part of the job before I’d accepted it. You can choose to accept it once you’ve translated a certain portion, or even when you’ve done the first draft of the entire document. Of course, there is a higher chance it will be taken, but again this is a great learning experience. If you come across a text in the same domain (say, fashion marketing), then you’ll know some of the terms already and may be able to translate it fairly quickly. And if you do accept the job after doing this pre-translation (as I call it), then you have a much lower risk of not meeting the customer’s deadline. If you are new to Gengo, especially if this is your first experience doing professional translation, I highly recommend employing this technique.

I had sort of known this before I applied to Gengo.com, but making a significant amount of money with this website alone is definitely difficult. First, there is the issue about scarcity of jobs–though that may get better once the holiday weekend ends. Also, you need to be cognizant of zones, because if you are sitting there waiting for jobs to come in when most people who speak the target language are asleep, you’ll end up waiting a long time.

For a passage comprised of a few hundred characters, you can get a few dollars, but when I did a calculation against how much time I actually spent on it (including pre-translation), usually it worked to be less than minimum wage (which is around ~$7.00 in the USA now). Having said that, as I gain experience in various domains my speed should go up, and there are also various translator tools which claim to be able to accelerate overall translation time (a popular one seems to be SDL trados). Assuming enough jobs are available, I could see eventually getting $10-$20 dollars an hour if things worked out well.

I really like how Gengo.com’s site is designed; it’s so easy to review, accept, and submit jobs. Their customer support is also excellent. I have asked them four or five questions, and they usually respond in a few hours with a very polite, detailed answer. There are also several levels of feedback to keep things running smoothly, including occasional reviews from pro-level translators of your work and comments from customers (including requests to edit and resubmit your work). It’s important to understand that in many cases the customer may have some understanding of English, so don’t assume they will overlook errors. I’ve seen a job sent back due to someone translating a word wrong (fortunately, this wasn’t mine), and due to having inappropriate tone.

As my vacation is ending soon, the amount of jobs I can complete will be going down drastically, but I hope to still work on evenings or weekends when I have time. While I still have time I also decided to take the “Pro” level test, and just submit my answer today. All I’ll say about it is that it was extremely difficult material, filled with places where I had to debate to go with the more natural translator, or that which is closer to the source material. If I pass this, I’ll have options to more jobs and a higher rate, but even if I fail it won’t change my stance on Gengo.com being a great place to hone your skills and get your feet wet in the translation business.

Just be careful with thinking that freelancing like this allows you to “work on your time”. Due to the time limits and randomness of jobs,  it’s hard to say it’s “convenient” unless you can block out a large portion of your time each day. But if you have no job at present and want to focus on only freelance translation, you can definitely leverage Gengo to great effect.