Getting Started with Japanese Translation

Japanese Translation with Yaqs

Getting Started Translating with Yaqs

Translation is one of those careers that looks interesting, at least on paper. If you freelance, you can work in your underwear and decide your own hours. And you can perfect your Japanese while you are on the job. Sounds like a great deal right?

The reality of course is a little different. Translation jobs can come and go in waves. One month, you are working 24 hour days to meet a deadline. The next you are staring out the window wondering why you got into this crazy business.

And the pay is not stellar either. There are some specialized jobs that can pay quite well, but your day to day stuff pays a modest sum. Enough to live by, but you aren’t going to get filthy rich, unless you are like my one workaholic friend who simply goes on translation binges and doesn’t leave his house for a few weeks.

Get Paid to Study Japanese

Translation can offer some paid reading practice though. And if you look at it from that prospective, it can be kind of fun. And you can use the money you earn on something fun (or even more JLPT drill books). It’s a good way to get some real world experience with the language.

And I often get asked about how you can get started doing translation. It’s a difficult industry to get rolling in, and the usual mantras apply – network, network, and network some more. In Japan, somebody, somewhere is always looking for a translator.

Everywhere you look there is someone. They are usually not at the bar you go to though. They are often students, people from social clubs, friends of friends, etc… I’ve gotten my best jobs from my networking activities. But, there is another source of pick up jobs out there if you want to get started right away (or are out of Japan).

Yaqs is a site that has been around for awhile. It matches translators with those needing quick translations of (usually) shorter documents. Jobs are sorted out into 3 categories – casual, standard, and pro. Each level has a different pay rate, with pro paying the highest.

They tend to offer a wide variety of jobs from personal letters to medical abstracts to engineering documents to advertising. So it is a good place to pick up some reading skills and get experience with some reading.

How Yaqs Works

After you put in your preliminary information for your relatively short profile, you need to take a translation test before you can qualify for any jobs. The trick here is that as soon as you push the button to take the test, the timer starts. So, make sure you are ready to sit down and do about an hour of uninterrupted translation work.

Then, based on your time and how well you translated the document you will be judged qualified to translate at certain levels. For example, if you qualify for the casual level you can translate jobs from both the casual and standard levels. The results from the test do take awhile to come back. It has been awhile since I took mine, but I remember it taking a few weeks.

But, once you are qualified you can see the list of jobs that are available to you. Unfortunately, you can not see this list before qualification (I’m guessing for privacy?). But, on an average day you will probably see 30-40 casual jobs, 10-20 standard jobs, and 5-10 pro jobs, in my experience at least.

To accept a job you click on one and you can read through it before you accept it. You’ll then have a set amount of time to complete the task based on how long (how many characters) the job is. This time frame can be a little tight for shorter documents, but is usually adequate for something longer.

Keep in mind that you will have to read and accept jobs fast. You are competing against all the other translators looking for jobs. You need to skim through it, make sure you can translate it then click the accept button and start translating. You will have to do it right then and there, so if it is one in the morning, you will have to work on it until you are finished.

There is a ‘give up’ button, but if you click that you will be banned from translations for a few months as a penalty. In other words, don’t click it unless you absolutely can’t complete it. You can make corrections to the document in the form of comments after you have submitted the job.

So, my recommendation is to try your best and if the client has issues you can always patch it up later after you have had time to do more research. After all, any good translator will offer a lifetime warranty on the original material, at least if you want to maintain a good relationship.

Get Rich Fast!

Don’t quit your day job quite yet. Even if you managed to complete all the jobs that are posted during the day, I doubt if you could actually make a decent or happy living off this website. It will give you a little spare change to have fun with, but nothing serious. The main point is to get some real world practice, so that you can turn around and get real translation gigs.

Or you can simply use this for the occasional practice here and there. It’s up to you. The main point I want to get across is that this will not be a major source of income for you. There just aren’t enough jobs for that. It is very interesting though.

You can sign up for notification emails that will send you the jobs when a new one is posted. But, you may want to keep a window open on your computer that is logged on to Yaqs. That way you can see the job right away and accept or decline it before somebody else gets their hands on it.

I should also mention that you need a Japanese Paypal account in order to get paid. You can have one from another country of course, but then you’ll have to pay the transaction fees for converting the money. Getting a Japanese Paypal is a pretty drawn out process that involves submitting scans of IDs and getting things mailed to your house. So that is a bit of a drawback, but once you are setup, everything goes smoothly.


Getting started is a bit like jumping on a bullet train, you have to open a job, skim it, and accept it before somebody else does. This is usually not that big of a deal. There isn’t that much competition over the jobs. But, it can be a little nerve-racking at first. And of course, you have to think about the time limit once you accept the job. It can be intimidating, but you can try some of the lower end / shorter jobs and build up your confidence.

It is also possible that they will offer you extra, bigger jobs to do as well. Just keep in mind that nothing really pays well. And that is okay. This is just for experience, if you want a real job doing translation you’ll need to use this as a springboard to move on to that. Yaqs is low entry, low risk, so low payout. That is how the game works unfortunately, still, it can be a good source of some pocket change and experience for you.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • V April 14, 2016, 5:42 am

    *Months* before you can take another translation, if you find you’re unable to finish one? That’s insane.

    • Clayton MacKnight April 15, 2016, 12:24 am

      Well, they want to cut down on abuse. Once you get used to it, you can scan an article and know within a few minutes if you can translate it well enough to accept it. And, if you write in and give them a valid excuse they will lift the ban. That’s what I did. They will yell at you a little, but I was back at it in a few days. The point is, don’t use the ‘give up’ button lightly.

      • V April 15, 2016, 1:54 am

        I can appreciate their rationale. You would think it would be quite obvious who is engaging in “abuse” and who has just made a genuine error of judgement, though. I’m glad to hear your ban was lifted after a few days. Still seems heavy handed, though.

  • Robert January 31, 2017, 4:24 am

    I got hit with the suspension for quitting one job with plenty of time left before the deadline because something came up right after I took it. I made at least a thousand dollars for the company over the course of my first month. I am fine with suspensions, but they don’t even tell you for how long, or that you are even suspended. Not even an automatic e-mail. That is just ridiculous. So in order to find out when my suspension is up, I have to keep trying to take jobs until the suspension message stops popping up. They have yet to respond to my message after three days. To me this just seems like a case of lazy administrators setting up a bare bones crowd translation site to make easy money off of eager translators trying to break into the industry. I am going to stick with Gengo from now on.

    • Clayton MacKnight February 6, 2017, 3:22 pm

      Well, yeah, there are higher payer and easier translation gigs, but it is a good, risk-free start (until you get suspended anyway.) I got suspended once, but a quick email reversed it for me. I think it did take them awhile to respond. But then again, it took them I think 2? months to approve my application, so I wasn’t expecting a quick response.

      Anyway, it’s not going to be your full-time job anytime soon. I always treated as a way to make money while studying Japanese.

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