Why it’s good for translators to blog

In December, I will have been a freelance translator for 10 years.

I live in Japan, and spend most of my day immersed in Japanese. I speak Japanese with my family members except for my son, and nearly all my friends (such as they are) are Japanese.

I do read a fair amount in English, and write a lot in English too, but by far most of my English writing is translation. The problem with translation is that it's hard to make a translation read like natural English. It's possible, but it takes effort.

Meanwhile, my Japanese clients tend to resist natural English. They want something they can understand, or something that looks like what their English textbook says, or something like what the last translator did for them. It takes courage for them to trust you. And even if they do, their boss/client might not.

So with resistance on both ends, I started to worry that my English writing might be gradually turning into translationese.

When I write something original in English, however, natural English comes natural. The main challenge with original content is that I'm writing without a net — I don't have a Japanese original to provide my content. That minor problem aside, writing original content exercises the writing muscle like translating never can.

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to get some practice writing original English, rather than just translation. Blogging is a good way to improve your writing skills, because you're writing for an audience (however small), so you tend to polish and edit a bit more. The format is also good — short, frequent articles that just take an hour or so when you've got the free time.

It's often said that native-language writing skill is the most important ability of the translator. I think this is true because while it's fairly easy to become a competent writer, becoming a good writer is another thing entirely. I also think this is the big differentiator between the journeyman and the master translator.

How do you become a better writer? Read read read, and write write write. But it's hard to improve your writing if all you're writing is translations. Blogging can be a good way to get practice writing natural English.

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