William Flanagan on the Early Stages of a Translator’s Career
So you’re a manga translator! Welcome to the club!
I want to warn you of some of the experiences you may encounter early in your career. I went through these stages in my struggle to become more professional, and other translators have said they went through similar stages. Will you go through them? No guarantees, but if you do, consider this your heads-up.
Stage 1: Your First Job!
Most hopefuls won’t get this far. But if you’re like I was, a native speaker of English who learned Japanese post-puberty, you will be guessing the meanings on most of your translations. They may be high-percentage guesses, but they’re still guesses. This is normal. You just need more experience. If you can get a native speaker to confirm or correct your guesses, it’ll help you through the stage.
Stage 2: Your First Big Title
After quite some time doing professional translations, you are now translating a prestige title. At this point, many translators get a big head (I did), since it appears that someone affirmed your “worthiness” as a translator. And you buy into the delusion of your own greatness. You find yourself arguing with translators far more experienced than yourself because you think you know better. You will be insufferable for a while.
Stage 3: The Crash
Generally the more full of yourself in Stage 2, the harder Stage 3 will be. This is when an editor catches some pretty egregious errors in your translation. (Hopefully it’s an editor, because it’s so much worse if it’s the buying public.) And you realize that you stink as a translator. Your confidence takes a nosedive, and you feel as worthless as you felt great before. Both feelings are illusions.
Stage 4: Relearning/Rededication
The goal here is to find your own weaknesses and start filling in the gaps in your education. For me, this stage included taking on a Japanese translation partner. The move gave my clients some security that my translations were accurate after my big mistakes, but I soon saw incredible learning benefits. You may navigate this stage with extra self-study, completing a degree, or time in Japan. However you do it, learn things!
For me, these were all within my first four years as a pro. Of course your study and work aren’t over, but hopefully your confidence won’t go through the same highs and lows. Good luck, everyone!
William (Bill) Flanagan started translating manga professionally in 1991 with Raika (Kaumi Fujiwara & Yu Terashima) and has been translating and editing manga ever since. He rose to be Director of Editorial of Viz Media in the early 2000s and from then on, has had his hand in top-selling manga. He also translates anime, games, TV, movies and novels. Representative manga translations include Alice in Murderland (Kaori Yuki), Fairy Tail (Hiro Mashima), and A Bride’s Story (Kaoru Mori). He lives with his wife and son in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture, Japan.