Translating into or out of the foreign language

In most places around the world, the common wisdom is that you should translate into a native language. This isn't the case for Japan, where for a variety of economic and social reasons, the vast majority of Japanese to English translation is done by native writers of Japanese.

Native writers of Japanese who translate into English tend to get defensive when they hear the "into your native language" mantra. They'll often state (quite rightly) that most native English-writing translators don't have sufficient grasp of Japanese or the subject matter to really do quality translations. And we're rare enough that often a sample of one or two gets generalized to a view of the whole population.

Meanwhile, those of us who are native writers of English note the simple fact that almost no J2E translation by a native writer of Japanese passes muster as a quality English document.

Which is fine. As long as you're honest with your customers and they're willing to pay you, then more power to you.

If I could earn more translating from English to Japanese than Japanese to English (the combination of rates and output), then I would translate English to Japanese if given offers to do so.

That said, I've also had the experience that even a competent translation by a non-native writer won't turn into a natural-reading document with just a "native check."

One has got to attain native-level writing ability if one wants to create top-quality translations, because adding a "checker" isn't enough. This is hard to do after a certain age, but by no means impossible. A case in point is Andrei Codrescu, a native of Romania who still has a noticeable accent but is a better writer of English and essayist than I'm likely to ever be. Here's one of his essays on NPR

It's also very hard, but not impossible, to gain enough understanding of a non-native language to do it justice in translation.

The standard argument outside Japan is that it's easier to do this than with writing. My own experience is that foreign-language acquisition has a rising curve of effort to results. Bare competence might take 6 months; conversational fluency a couple of years; a solid grasp of the language and its nuances a decade; true mastery a lifetime. Although the curve starts out steeper for the writing (production) side than the reading (comprehension) side, the two will catch up over time, given equivalent effort.

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