JLPT BC 118 | Adventures in Translation

JLPT BC 118 | Adventures in Translation post image
Japanese translation

I think I can do better than this.

One of my original goals when I first decided to study a little harder and take my Japanese to the N1 level was to become a translator. I’m currently teaching English now, and I enjoy it, but translation has always seemed more fun for me because it is like a puzzle you have to solve. This is even more true for Japanese where some things are expressed completely differently than they are in English.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been doing translations here and there for a few people. Nothing really serious, I’m just getting my feet wet and seeing what it is like. It has given me a lot of good exposure to different kinds of writing and even bad Japanese writing. And overall, I’ve been liking it.

To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure if I want to be a translator. It is a little bit of a lonely job. It also involves a lot of computer work, which I like computers, but I also like seeing the sky and talking to real human beings. So far so good though with it.

I would be interested to hear from the JLPT Boot Camp community though. I’m sure there are more than a few translators out there. How is it? Do you like the day to day work?

In either case, doing some translation here and there can really help with comprehension because you have to look at it in a different way, and you also have a picky client there to criticize your interpretations of the writing.

Reading for Fun

Right after a test I always like to go back to just doing some reading for fun. Nothing too difficult, nothing deeply philosophical, just a good ol’ fashion story. I want something enjoyable that I want to know the ending to.

Also, no matter what level of the test you are taking, reading speed is constantly an issue. Even for the N1 level, which gives you almost 2 hours to answer all the questions for vocabulary, grammar, and the reading sections, it can be really difficult to just finish the test on time. Anything you can do to save some time is going to be a huge help.

I would say one of your biggest enemies for the test will be focus, and being used to reading can be a big help in this regard for all parts of the test. Even the grammar sections can be a little tricky for you to stay focused in. For the N1 level there are few grammar questions that have 2 or 3 sentences you have to look at.

Also, starting at about the N3 level, you can’t rely so heavily on the lists anymore. You should be using native materials on a regular basis because you will probably pick up a lot of good words that will show up on the test. A good strategy that has always worked for me is drill words so that they are in your head, but do some reading to truly understand how they are used.

I’ve recently been watching the jDrama Kazoku Game (家族ゲーム). It’s a story about an at home tutor that comes to help a boy go back to school after he had been bullied. Of course, it’s not as simple as that. The story has plenty of twists and secrets to it as well, like any jDrama. And, the ebook version is only Y340, so I thought I would give it a try.

Sorted by Kanji

Last month, I whipped up an N3 course that practices kanji in a slightly different way. Instead of just studying the kanji one by one. I grouped all the words for a particular kanji together and then sorted the kanji by theme. That way I can be learning vocabulary while learning kanji.

I’ve been trying it out over the last month, and I really like it. The best part of it is that it pairs a lot of similarly looking kanji compounds together that are easy to confuse like 状態(jyoutai) and 状況(jyoukyou). Practicing the two words together can be difficult and a little confusing but I think it makes those nuances very clear.

I’ve already started work on stage 2, and I hope to get it out soon. Definitely let me know what you think.

How was your Month?

Are you getting ready for the big December test this year? Taking it easy? Let me know in the comments.

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Ashley July 25, 2013, 1:40 am

    Although I don’t want to become a professional translator, I LOVE translating cookbooks/recipes as a hobby. For one thing, the vocabulary is much more limited than in other fields–there’s only so many verbs you can do to only so many ingredients. But the style of recipes in Japanese is strikingly different from English recipes. It’s a great way to learn new recipes (which I love trying), learn new words, and practice grammar all at once!

    • Clayton MacKnight July 27, 2013, 2:49 pm

      I can imagine the grammar is pretty simple for recipes. I have a pretty big hole in my vocabulary for food it seems like because sometimes people will ask me if I’ve tried a particular dish and I don’t know for sure because I never pay attention to the names of food. I guess I’m too American in that sense. I’ll eat anything.

  • bunalz July 25, 2013, 9:34 pm

    Kind of the same goals for me, but I’m doing it mostly for games (lol) and anime/manga which are not translated (and worst of all: only a few seems to be interested, if at all). So, yeah, more like a hobby or something.

    Over the two years of “translating” them, I found that they try to use those dreaded (even non-joyou!) kanji whenever possible (in games, mostly) and for someone at my level (N3), that proved to be very, very exhausting.

    In my opinion, doing translations do help in improving one’s reading. 「一石二鳥」だよね。:P

    • Clayton MacKnight July 27, 2013, 2:52 pm

      It can be a bit agonizing to take the time to look up a kanji only to realize later, that you might not even see it again. Some of those RPGs that are set in older times use the darnest kanji.

  • Surabhee August 2, 2013, 8:12 am

    I have been working as a professional German translator for a few years now. Translation is very interesting as long as you are working in a domain of your choice. I have been working only on technical documents like patents, thesis, mechanical drawings etc. for the last 2-3 years. And i am kind of getting sick of it because after a while it the same set of words repeating all the time. Secondly, you hardly use technical words like torque, printed circuit board, transversal, etc. when you are having a normal conversation. So though your vocabulary increases, it does not help much when you are conversing with a native.

    Recently, after clearing N2 I have also started doing Japanese to English translations but since i work with an automobile company i keep getting technical documents. But just few weeks back i translated the anime “Asari chan” for a production house and this was really very interesting. I also got to learn about Japanese customs and culture.

    So i personally think translation is interesting only when you are working in a domain that you find interesting, otherwise it ends up being boring.

    • Clayton MacKnight August 4, 2013, 6:35 am

      I can see that, the little bit of translation I’m doing now is pretty general, like business emails, status reports and stuff like that, so they are somewhat interesting. It’s kind of like being able to read someone’s email. But, at the same time it is not very high-paying. I take it to earn a good living it needs to be technical, medical, or literary translation which should be better paying.

      I always hear N2 is all you really need to get started in translation.

      • Kristine August 7, 2013, 10:10 pm

        I’ve been working as a translator for a while and can totally attest to the work being boring when you absolutely do not care about the content you’re translating. I had the chance to translate texts about Japanese popular culture at one point, which was a ton of fun, but technical manuals on the other hand… At least I know how to start the engine in an air conditioner now!

        Most companies that specialize in translation or are very concerned about language abilities (such as companies that deal in foreign relations quite a bit) will require N1, but N2 is all you really need to get your foot in the door. There are a lot of smaller companies that just need something in English and don’t have the time to be picky, as well as some that don’t care as long as you’re good at what you do. I’ve been lucky enough as an amateur translator (around 3 years) to not even need a JLPT score, but I think I’m an exception.

        It CAN be pretty lonely as a translator though. I try to circumvent this by working 9-5 even though I don’t have to so I can be free when my friends and boyfriend are 🙂

        • Clayton MacKnight August 10, 2013, 12:09 am

          Working to 9 to 5 would be a plus, right now I have fairly irregular hours, so just having a regular work schedule at home would be good, no commuting time either. I have met more than a few people that took the JLPT, but their employer didn’t ask for it. I think if you can network and prove you have the skills in another way it really isn’t needed. But studying for the test does help to broaden your understanding of more grammar structures and increase your reading speed. At least it has for me.

  • Victoria August 11, 2013, 6:10 am


    How about doing a job that involves translation but within another industry? I think you’re right that translation on its own can be a very solitary pursuit. Recently I started a part time job as an assistant in a real estate agency, which should hopefully involve some translation (although the vocab is still a bit too new to be doing very much). If I can get up to speed on the specialist language it could be the best of both worlds – using my Japanese as well as enjoying day-to-day office banter and perhaps even working with customers at some point.

    Of course a choice of career is a very personal thing, but I just wanted to share that idea before you disregard translation as a loners path under all circumstances.

    Good luck with all your studies – the site and community you’ve built here are an inspiration and invaluable source of support and encouragement!


    • Clayton MacKnight August 13, 2013, 2:22 am

      Thanks Victoria!

      I’m kind of interested doing freelance translation because of the ability to just pack up and temporarily live somewhere else for awhile. For example, if I have sick family in the States I can head back and live in the States for a month while still ‘paying the bills’. Having family in two different countries makes for difficult career choices.

  • Emmil July 7, 2014, 3:20 pm

    I’ve been working as an Interpreter/Translator for more than a decade now. After graduating in Mechanical Engineering in Manila, then took my Masters Degree in Waseda University, I decided to try my luck in doing Technical Translations. Its a fun job because I worked for a Japanese company that has 3 interpreters with a manpower of around 4000+. So other departments would usually drag me down to their office to do a quick translation of their documents ( Purchasing, Accounting, Production departments). I noticed that if you only do translation for 1 particular department at work then it would be a very routine job. Your vocabulary will be limited only to that section. But if you try to work your way outside your department, then you would get a chance to do translation work with other departments. This year Dec 2014, I plan to take my 4th take for JLPT 1 (N1)… its difficult learning the language outisde Japan. And sometimes at work, I limit myself to using grammar between N2 and N3. Studying for N1 is REALLY TOUGH.

  • KanjiGuy November 28, 2017, 4:20 am

    I stumbled upon your podcast while looking for japanese podcast in itunes, your podcast is amazing! Thanks for making them 😀 Thanks for sharing your personal experience of learning japanese and also living in Japan! A bit jealous to be honest ;p

    • Clayton MacKnight November 28, 2017, 2:21 pm

      Good to hear! I had to stop doing the podcast because of lack of time, but I’m thinking about starting it back up again.

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