Master's degree to be a Japanese translator

@sycamore Yes, I have read several interviews of various recognized Japanese translators from my country, and also I have seen their LinkedIn profiles as well as other translators profiles, and most of them have studied a Master’s degree in Japanese Studies (related with culture, history, literature, and so on) in Japan.

However, I don’t have any idea of, for example, which Master in Japanese Studies from which university would be the best (the one I could make more profit as a translator), neither I know the following:

@Pizh Well, in my Bachelor’s degree I have focused on other things besides Japanese, like the mastery of my own language (which is the one I am going to translate into), documentation skills, translation history, translation theory, etc. But in terms of Japanese skills, I also expected to get much higher skills than the ones I have at this moment.

Anyway, thanks for your encouragement! I hope someday to be able to interconnect my Japanese skills. :slight_smile:

1 Like

@Raionus Yes, being part of a translation fan team would definitely help to gain some translations skills and it would be a great practice, although right now I feel what I need the most is an academic and exhaustive program that teaches me to translate professionally.

Besides, publishing houses often make translation assignments to translators with a higher education than a Bachelor’s degree, so studying a Master’s degree is almost a necessity for me.

@Meghana Yes, in fact in my Bachelor’s degree the program focused quite a lot in mastering the output language as well as in acquiring other skills necessary for a translator beyond knowing languages. However, all of this without mastering the language you are asked to translate… does not help.

And although I do all I can to improve my Japanese by my own, I feel I need an advanced teaching of Japanese if possible oriented towards translation. For example, a Master or a course that teaches me the nuts and bolts of the Japanese used in a certain novel, and that explains me all the complex grammar, all the cultural and historical references, the characteristics of different writing styles… that kind of things.

@Cauliflower Well, I guess some doors (teaching jobs) are closed to non-native English speakers, since English schools in Japan in most of cases only hire native speakers (that if we don’t take into account that my English is not the best) and since there does not seem to be much demand for teachers of other foreign languages. In the same vein, some time ago I read about the JET program, but it seems that it is geared towards native English speakers, so I would be out.

However, going to a Japanese school before studying any Master’s degree is an option I have thought more than once. Does anyone know a school that helps you to have a Japanese level like the ones natives have or enough to be able to take a Master’s degree in Japanese?

Once you finished it, you can tick it off in the Akutagawa Prize Reading Challenge if you like! It won the prize in 2003.

3 Likes

Translator here! Not a japanese one, but I’m headed there as well. I am literary translator from Ukraine. So your struggle is very close to my heart. Thought it’s been years since then… I know that English or German or French are way easier than Japanese, but not when you are of slavic origin. Our languages just differ too much (we have much more common with Chinese when it comes to grammar than with English). So when I set out on my ‘immabecomeatranslator’ journey I was lost and hopeless. I couldn’t understand a lot. And what’s worse I couldn’t understand the things I wanted to read. So I forced myself to read ALL THE BOOKS I could get my hands on. Literally. It was a hard labour at first. But I got a pretty decent grasp of the language within a year. After that jpurney became smoother. I started listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos on literature in English a lot. Like every day. Few hours a day.
Now I’m doing the same with Japanese. I force mycelf to study grammar and READ a lot. Strating with manga (pictures help to get the gist of what’s going on). Also I read novels and short stories. And texts from textbooks. And I translate them using my pre-existing skills. For now I keep them (translations) to myself. But in forseable future… So you may trying doing the same. Just don’t expect it to be an easy journey. And no, you don’t need to go to Japan to learn a language. It’s nice and all, but learning to speak and learning to translate are two completely different sets of skills. I know people in this field who can’t hold a decent conversation in their ‘working’ (so to speak) language, but can make a great translation. Unless you want to be both…
But about degree… I majored in English. They don’t actually ask for a degree when they hire literary translators here. They ask for a good translations. So take part in some competitions, write essays, translate “into-the-box”, send cold emails to publishers with examples of your works, use freelance platforms… Gain experience. And then any degree would do.

15 Likes

You’re welcome and actually thank you for starting this thread! And thanks to @sycamore for sharing the article. Some interesting book recommendations came out of it!

I’ve been thinking about this while on the subway today and I have to admit that languages are also close to my heart and I think it’s admirable you want to purse translation as a study field and later profession :slight_smile: . Fingers crossed for your success!

1 Like

This is probably exactly why the translators from your country whom you found on LinkedIn have a Master in Japanese Studies. I think that’s what it teaches you. Something about Japanese literature would probably be similar, but I suspect something labelled ‘Japanese studies’ is more likely to be oriented towards non-Japanese people.

I’d suggest you check the requirements for working as a translator in whichever country or organisation you intend to work. Sometimes a degree might help, but in other cases, it’ll be useless, and a portfolio or some sort of test result would be more useful.

As for your Japanese… first of all, don’t beat yourself up over the level you reached after your degree. Even in, say, France’s top institute focused on Eastern languages (Inalco), students doing a bachelor’s degree equivalent are only recommended to take the N2 at the end of their studies (3 years) unless they have a ‘good level of Japanese’. Secondly, regarding how to improve, with an N3 level, you should finally be able to parse some longer sentences, so it would probably help to practice reading with something like NHK News Web Easy. You could also get yourself an intermediate textbook to work on, like Tobira, An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese (AIAtIJ), できる日本語 (I think), Quartet and so on. I suggest using a good dictionary to help you, especially one with translated example sentences. Jisho is on obvious option, but there’s also https://ejje.weblio.jp, which has all of Jisho’s data and more (and more examples). Start transitioning to a monolingual dictionary as early as possible for extra reading practice and a deeper understanding of words. If you like anime (or any other sort of native material), consume more of it for fun and try to look out for words that you know (it’s very helpful for listening practice) and for interesting words that you don’t (which you can look up and learn). If you want more concrete details on how to do each thing, I could probably come up with them, but I don’t want to overload you, so I’ll stop here unless you have other queries/are curious about something else.

2 Likes

This resonates with me. A translator from Japanese is writing in English. So who knows, as far as degrees go an advanced degree in English might be more useful. Plus every waking moment immersing oneself in Japanese language and culture on every possible front.
Others have done it though, with many languages. I can think of several WK users who would be 100% competent translating English into their first language, based upon how fluidly they communicate here in the forums.

2 Likes

As a mom, I urge you to scramble and find a position right now where you can “earn while you learn” instead of spending lots of money on a masters degree (which is only a year). I have just spent 2.5 years teaching myself Japanese as fast as I can, and there is only so much that a brain can absorb in a year, it seems. Jobs translating between Japanese and English is competing with natives in one or possibly both languages. I would want to be N1 plus for that someday job. If I were you, I’d find a today job while I “level up” for free. Can one earn sufficiently being an online tutor, I wonder? You may be able to translate into/from your native language, as well (I’m seeing Japanese companies with offices in Viet Nam, for example) (you didn’t say what your native language is) I thought the fan translation advice was on point.

I wish you luck, but based on your self-assessment, it’s too soon for a masters degree to help you. Because in a year, you won’t have much more experience translating than you have now. (I only say that because I’ve been translating almost daily for a year, and I feel like I need another two years to be comfortable “just reading the news” or “just watching a show”. I think the networking with actual working translators is key, because the market must be understood in view of machine translation including voice recognition.

A degree doesn’t equal a job, it equals student loans and some improvement of skills with a verifiable baseline knowledge. Self study has no certifications to potential employers of your capabilities.

Good luck!!!

5 Likes

Hi Nat

You’ve got a degree from an English speaking University? I know your degree is in japanese language, but in order to qualify for JET and for many jobs in Japan a degree from an English speaking school is all you need.

A lot of teachers here are not native English speakers, or their first language is not English. People from India, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, Mexico, South America and Europe can teach English. It’s true that people who “look like” English speakers, and come from America probably find jobs easier. But I’ve met JETs and worked with other English teachers from all over the world.
Based on your emails, your language level is certainly high enough to teach English.

As for schools… well I’ve been looking at language schools, as I may need to do a year of Japanese study before I can get into a Master’s program.
I was looking at this school. https://hirata-jls.com/publics/index/22/
It offers an advanced class that prepares you for University level Japanese. The school also provides visas.
But that was just in my first search. I’m sure there are plenty of Japanese language schools that prepare people to study here.

You can also apply for a MEXT scholarship to study Japanese at a University in Japan. And like the JET program they will bring you here and help with housing and all sorts of things.

Not sure what other language you speak. But I know some people who teach Russian and French as jobs in Japan. But like you said that is more rare than English.

Good luck with your search and plan

C.

4 Likes

Me again.

What they all said… My friend is teaching in Japan right now on JET/Interac, earning while she improves her Japanese, and she is really enjoying it, and saving up a little money. Bachelor’s degree was the requirement (plus nailed the in-person interview where they are your speaking skills)…

1 Like

There are A LOT of people who enroll in Japanese language schools with the goal of entering a Japanese university, so it actually won’t be too difficult for you to find a program. Language schools are usually part time and expect you to work a part time job in your free time. You get the benefits of both 1. Earning money and 2. Practice using Japanese in a work environment.

Here’s a random example from a school my friend goes to. You can see that one of the options for the long term course is a course aimed at getting you to university level Japanese. This school is in no way unique, so you could easily start by deciding what city you want to live in and looking for schools in that area.

Your biggest hurdle will be covid, honestly. The borders have been closed and international students haven’t been allowed in for about 18 months now. The government is showing no signs of changing border restrictions any time soon.

4 Likes

I just wanted to respond to this as someone from Singapore: most people around my age (mid-20s) or younger do speak English as their first language. It’s just that everyday English in Singapore is not standard, and some people never manage to separate that sort of English filled with local terms and grammar (Singlish) from standard English. However, some of us are native speakers. I had to work hard to remove all common local grammatical errors/quirks from my English and to acquire a second accent for my English (I still speak Singlish in casual situations and with my family), but I am a native speaker, and would appreciate it if people didn’t assume I am not just because of my country of origin. (I’m not accusing you of anything, but I met a teacher in France a few months ago who asked me, ‘Why did you say you were a native speaker?’ when she found out I was from Singapore, as if the English proficiency I had just demonstrated was insufficient to substantiate my claim, and that really ticked me off.)

Nonetheless,

Yes, I’ve seen interviews with JETs who aren’t from the usual set of ‘English-speaking countries’. I didn’t know that a degree from an English-speaking institution was sufficient though. Thank you for sharing this information!

5 Likes

Hi nat25,

I can totally relate to your experience. I haven’t done any Bachelor’s degree in Japanese but I share the same goal: becoming a translator from Japanese to my native language. Actually, I’m currently doing a PhD in a totally different field (biology) but I’ve been thinking about the next step for a few months.

Other Wanikaniers have already given a lot of useful information, but I’ll just add what I know and try to help.

I’ve also searched a lot of Japanese universities websites, and there are translation degrees in Japan. But obviously, most of them are training native Japanese students to translate from a given language to Japanese, which is not what we are looking for! I’ve found a very small number of degrees including Japanese > English translation, but English is not my native language so I wasn’t interested and can’t remember where they were.

As you are already aware since you did a translation degree, translation skills and language skills are two different things that we have to train. The community has given useful advice to work on your Japanese, and if you really want to go to Japan, you can still go to a language school. Some advanced programs start from N2 and get you to a more advanced level.

If you are not confident about your translation skills, maybe you can find an intensive translation course/degree, even if it’s not related to Japanese, to train you about specific softwares/methods/frameworks. Since English is not your native language, these courses will most likely focus on translations from English to your native language, but I think it is still very useful. And a translator mastering more languages will obviously have more opportunities.

This is what I plan to do after my PhD, doing a 1 year professional degree teaching what a translator needs to know (translation methods, how to run your business, etc), and then maybe going to Japan for another year to improve my Japanese (and, hey, just because I want to try living in Japan someday!) either in an advanced language school program, or something else.

And last thing, you already know it but it is very important for translators to master their native language. So if you want to become a literary translator, it is a good idea to show that you are able to write literature. Maybe try to write short stories or a novel in your native language, this will demonstrate your skill!

I wish you all the best in this exciting journey!

6 Likes

If your speaking and listening skills are the focus I’d definitely recommend one aspect that will help: having lessons with teachers.

A lot of people think I am crazy for saying this, but if you book an hour a day you’ll get better at listening and speaking even if you put in zero effort. (For the price, I’d recommend joining ASAO at a flat rate of around £7 a month and booking in lessons with the trainee tutors, it really does the job).

If 発音 is also a concern, the thing that helps me is watching Japanese TV (e.g. Terrace House) and emulating the language I see/hear, trying to figure out how to get my mouth to make the sounds I’m hearing in the different situations they are heard.

Good luck!

6 Likes

@Tanya7281 Thanks a lot for sharing your story and give me advices! I have the same view: as long as I can’t go to Japan, I am trying to read and listen to Japanese as much as I can and trying to improve every day. Although ultimately I hope I can go there and study something from an academic perspective that helps me make the leap to being able to work professionally.

Once I feel more confident with my Japanese, I will also do this. It is something that I have in mind since a time ago.

Good luck to you too and I hope we can both be professional Japanese translators one day! :slight_smile:

1 Like

@Jonapedia Thanks a lot for your advices! :slight_smile:

About my Japanese, I already studied Tobira during my Bachelor’s degree, and I also often read news from NHK (easy and normal ones). My concern with Japanese is

For some of these questions, it seems that the answer is either increase the time of self-study (reading, listening and speaking as much as possible) or go to a Japanese school when possible, but do you know if I would receive any training prior to the Master’s degree in case of obtaining a MEXT scholarship?

2 Likes

@Shannon-8 Thanks a lot for your point of view! :slight_smile:

However, I prefer to make an effort and try to receive professional training and academic knowledge to fill my gaps (along with self-study). That is what I feel I need the most.

1 Like