Master's degree to be a Japanese translator

Hi!

I am writing this post because I would like you to help me to set my next goal on my path to becoming a Japanese translator and give me some advice. Right now I have just graduated from a Bachelor’s degree in Japanese translation, but far from what you might think, the level of training I have received is really low and much far from the desirable one to be able to translate professionally from Japanese. My current level of Japanese is around JLPT N3, and I feel that I still have a lot of grammar, a lot of vocabulary to learn, and that my language skills must improve much more if I want to be a translator one day. In fact, I’m not able to understand anything about anything that I could be asked to translate: I cannot read a novel (it takes me forever to read and understand a single page), I do not understand any anime, any movie, any drama, any video game with a minimum of plot, nothing. In class, the only thing we have done has been to translate texts from textbooks and some news from NHK Easy News, which has not prepared me at all for the profession of translation.

And even worse, my speaking and listening skills are completely hopeless. I don’t understand anything I hear in Japanese beyond one or two single words and I can’t carry on a simple conversation in Japanese naturally, that is, I can’t chat in a relaxed way with someone understanding what that person is saying to me and being able to say what I want to say without lacking hundreds of words or spending an hour thinking about how to build a long sentence. I only know how to make short sentences and I’m not able to compose long sentences and add elements on the fly as I speak.

And when I have discussed these problems with the different teachers I have had throughout my career, the only thing they have all ended up telling me is “the degree program is what it is. You should go to Japan, certainly your level would improve a lot there”, what I have never been able to do due to financial limitations.

That said, currently I am trying to learn all the Japanese that I can on my own in a self-taught way and in the future I am considering applying for a Monbusho Scholarship in order to go to Japan and try to complete my training, since it does not exist in my country any postgraduate studies that prepare me to be a Japanese translator. And here is where I ask you to share your wisdom. In case of applying for a postgraduate scholarship, which Master’s degree would be the best to be a Japanese translator? Above all, I would like to be a literary translator.

I have been researching the Master’s programs of different Japanese universities and I cannot find any university that trains me as a Japanese translator. It seems that studies related to translation are not recognized there, so I am quite lost and do not even know which master I should aspire to take one day. I have thought perhaps about a Master’s degree in Japanese literature or in Japanese studies, but for this I would need to be previously taught a level of Japanese that allows me to read novels and recognize different styles of writing, which is the most basic and fundamental prerequisite. What’s more, I suppose that to do any Master’s degree I need to have a level of educated native Japanese that I am light years away from…

And for this reason I ask you: how do I prepare to study a Master’s degree in Japan with my very poor level of Japanese? Although with a lot of effort I may be able to obtain JLPT N2 or JLPT N1 (at best) within a year or two, I can’t think of a way that I can improve my language skills to the point that I understand anything that I read or listen to. How do I understand the teachers and all the people around me? And how do I communicate myself if no matter how hard I try, I don’t know how to speak? I feel that I need a previous teaching and a very exhaustive training that I thought I would receive in my Bachelor’s degree and that, however, I have not received. And how do I do it to write papers and take exams in Japanese that would be complicated even in my own language? If one day I am lucky enough to get the scholarship, would I receive any training before taking any Master’s degree that makes me have a native Japanese level?

As you can see, right now I have many questions and no answers. That is why I ask for your help. Any advice you can give me is very welcome.

Thank you so much in advance!

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I think that you are ideally suited to reach your goal, because you have such a firm grasp of how much you lack. :slight_smile: I mean this. Many people post here who have wild over-evaluations of where they are, and how much further they have to go.
Other people here will point you towards good resources, I am sure. I think that you need to read and listen to Japanese every single day going forward. Find podcasts right at your level. Find books at your level. Join a book club here. Find native Japanese speakers to speak with. Make a priority list of these things. Make a plan and periodically review the plan.
People have done similar things what you intend, and I have watched them do it right here. Improvement in language is very slow, and seems frustrating. Give yourself a several year plan.
Imagine that you were starting from scratch right now. But you know many words, many kanji, many details of grammar, and can sometimes even understand what is being said or written. That is years ahead of someone truly starting from zero. Also you have advice from skilled learners right here.
You say you just graduated college. So in all likelihood you have the rest of your 20’s to focus in on this goal and get in a place to achieve it. It doesn’t matter what else happens in life. Keep reading, listening, studying, even if you have to be working at some other full time job or degree.
Every page that you translate, every broadcast you listen to, you get a tiny bit closer to your goal.
:slight_smile:

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First of all, thank you so much for your words and your encouragement! :slight_smile:

Yes, what you say is exactly what I’m doing right know. I have made a plan which I’d like to fulfill in one or two years that consists of taking small steps every day with the aim of ultimately being able to pass JLPT N1 and also Kanken 2. I have also started to read a novel in Japanese (after some failed attempts with other novels), Hebi ni piasu by Hitomi Kanehara, and every day I learn new words and expressions, which makes me happy.

However, I feel that this may not be enough if I want to study a Master’s degree in Japan and besides I have doubts about what would be the best path to become a professional Japanese translator, and that’s why I’ve felt the need to create this thread.

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Hey nat, welcome to WK :slight_smile:

I’m fairly new to learning Japanese as well, but WK is a great place to find support and resources. You can progress at your own pace and direction, without the need to conform to a university course. Check out the WK resources link for more info and fall headfirst down whatever rabbit hole takes your fancy, be it podcasts, grammar or vocab, etc.

Also, just today @Jarrz made an amazing Level 60 post with some great advice; my favourite being that, if you ca’t physically move to Japan, why not do so digitally. She changed her online accounts, entertainment outlets and eventually computer & phone OS to Japanese. This makes learning the language a necessity rather than a hobby. I’ll be sure to implement these ideas gradually as well, but it definitely seems intimidating given my current level. You sound like you have enough of the basics to cope though :muscle:

Let us know if you find anything useful or what really appeals to you. Enthusiasm can be infectious here on the forums!

Good luck, and happy learning :slight_smile: :vulcan_salute:

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Most definitely, but N3 level is already a good starting point!

I think it’s a common issue and many of us went through this. I can honestly say that I started understanding anime only very recently, despite watching it (English subtitles, original audio) for a couple of years, and I think the biggest factor was actually getting started with Tobira which, despite being a textbook, contains more reader-level Japanese.

Based on that and the other things you wrote, I would recommend reading and watching tons in Japanese. It’s going to be a struggle at the very beginning, but if you don’t give up, you will succeed :slight_smile: . I started reading my first book in Japanese a couple of days ago and it’s an absolute pain, but the fact that I can picture what’s written in the book and slowly work through it, definitely brings me joy. And it’s only going to get easier!

A good source of books seems to be Aozora Bunko. Here’s the main thread where the books have been sorted by WaniKani level. The level is also a bit of an indication of the target audience, because less kanji-dense books are likely for younger audiences:

So thumbs up and don’t give up!

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It might help to read interviews with Japanese translators to see what advice they give and what route they took. For example, here’s an interesting interview with the translator Morgan Giles: Morgan Giles: ‘I’m astounded by the sense of community among literary translators’ | The Japan Times

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@jjigae Thanks for linking my topic :blush:

Lol, last year I tried the JLPTN5 sample and failed, so in terms of certification nat25’s out of my league.

But I’ll still give my 2 cents anyways. I’ve only really focused on my reading and writing aspect of Japanese since that’s my goal so I can’t advice on speaking or listening.

My advice which may help you

In essence it’s “small steps to a big goal” like preparing for a master degree.

Focus on life-style, not life-changing.
Most people like me will give up trying to make life-changing transformations because it’s too much to chew at once.

Example, being able to read and write exams in Japanese is life changing but reading a page a day is a new kind of lifestyle.

This is especially important if you are self-taught as no one is there to regulate and stop you from burning yourself out.

I’m going to paraphrase a bit from my level 60 post but essentially, “Necessity is the mother of invention” meaning if needing something is paramount to your survival, by hook or by crook you are forced to achieve it.

Personally, this meant changing everything to Japanese so that there is no escape.

Nowhere is safe, not google

Not even kindle

Not even my games

Heck, not even the WaniKani community forums

Welcome to the Wild East of 日本語 where either I learn to read or don’t do anything.

Luckily, I managed to learn to read. How? Because I paced myself through a slow transition over the course of nearly half a year! Start changing the non-essentials until you get the courage to change the essentials. I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy, for the first month I had a thought about quitting every other day.

As for translation practice, personally I would recommend something like HelloTalk, or any app that lets you talk to some natives online for free.

My HelloTalk id btw, if anyone is interested in talking: ho_jarrett

Best part? You can train your translation skills and get feedback too. I must say my ego is constantly being stroked there.


I can’t tell if she’s being nice or she actually finds my Japanese clear. :thinking:

Another good thing is you can have a casual text chat. Because unlike a physical face to face one where you are put on the spot, you can just take your time to form any complex sentence and reply a few hours later :+1:

Hopefully this helps, and good luck!
SalutingEmoji

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I don’t want to sound like an xsshxle but I’m genuinly curious.

How can you achieve so little from a bachelor degree that focus entirely on Japanese?
Does the program’s structure is that bad?

I think you might have every foundation you need to be able to use Japanese comfortably but those skills are still not connected. With enough pratice and Japanese usage, you would be surprised by how good at Japanese you actually are.

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In the end, the determining factor in whether you can land a translation job depends on one thing: your ability to do the work. Either you can translate or you can’t. Probably no one will want to pay your while you figure out how to do it. Any master’s degree will land you in a similar position to where you are now, unless you start to change your day to day habits.

  1. Start amassing random knowledge (learn kanji, vocab, grammar)
  2. Get a tutor (or native) to help you synthesize the random bits of knowledge you’ve learned into something you can use in practical situations (as in, explore nuances)
  3. Start doing the thing you’re trying to get paid to do (translation or interpretation)

Given your interest in books, I’ll plug the following:

I don’t like shilling my own stuff but it seems suited to your purposes (and will help you with point 1).

Point 2: go on iTalki, get a tutor, or join a Japanese exchange student conversational club if your school has one.

Point 3: Go join a fan translation team or start clipping + translating vtubers (the hololive discord server exists) or something like that.

You probably don’t even need a master’s degree to translate if you can produce a credible body of translated work.

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I guess getting a Master degree could serve as a shortcut into some big companies. Or it could be a good way preventing the translators from getting under paid. That how most of Asian companies work.

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I like your point about perhaps the foundation being there but OP not realizing it.

I took every Japanese language class offered at my university (one of my majors was Asian Studies, there was no Japanese major) and came out in a similar situation - JLPT 3kyu (though this was before the restructuring of the test) but unable to have a natural conversation. I moved to Japan after graduating and my listening comprehension was TERRIBLE but it turns out I had a good foundation and things came more easily to me as time went on.

Granted this was all over a decade ago so my Japanese is terrible again :grimacing:

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I have a friend who’s currently doing a Masters in Translation Studies (focusing on Japanese) at Kent State, which is a pretty well regarded program. Something that he was really surprised to find is that he’s not learned any Japanese during his masters in Japanese translation. According to him, at the Master’s level, translation programs aim to make your English output as good as possible. At the end of the day, that’s what translators get paid to do: output clear, readable, well-written English. So over the course of his degree, he’s found that his English writing has improved dramatically, but his Japanese skills are largely unchanged.

SO seeing as your main issue seems to be your Japanese level, I’m not sure a Masters in translation would help you at this point. In fact, you might not even meet their entry requirements, since they tend to assume that you’re already proficient in the language before entering the program.

I think other people have given good advice on what you can do to improve your Japanese. My short nuggets of advice would be: get lots and lots of input and practice talking to yourself in Japanese.

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nat25

Hi I think your concept that coming to Japan is “expensive” maybe should be re-evaluated.
With your Japanese language level (N3 is pretty good for expats living here) and your dedication and desire to become a translator, you could 100% get a teaching job here that would pay you enough that you could even save for your masters degree. And then you can get all the listening and speaking practice you would ever want.
Of course right at this moment this year coming to Japan is not really something you can do, have you thought about applying to the JET program, that gets you a free flight even.
You can also look at going to Japanese school here to get a visa, but you’ll have enough time to work part time as well, and if you get into a University to teach you’ll make enough to get by. Plus as an English teacher, if you understand Japanese grammar that will help you be a better teacher as well.

Unrelatedly/ relatedly I am in a somewhat similar situation, looking at doing a masters program in Japan. But I want to study art here, and I don’t have a huge dedication or interest in studying language. But to get into Uni I would need at least N2… and I’d be lucky to pass N3. My listening is good, my speaking is poor, longer sentence structures baffle me, my reading is getting better. But I’m not sure I have what it takes to get my skill level up enough to get into a masters program here… maybe I should be reaching out to the wanikani community to see what people’s advice is.

C.

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@jjigae @Jarrz Yes, definitely setting your devices and your accounts in Japanese helps a lot to learn new words. I started doing so some time ago and it has been really useful.

The step that I still have to take is to speak with natives, which I have not taken yet because I do not feel prepared. More than once I think “How would I say this in Japanese” and I usually have a hard time saying that, and I end up googling how to say it and spending a lot of time looking for words and grammar patterns. Although that’s good to learn, and I notice it myself, it doesn’t make me want to talk to native speakers by the moment. When I become more agile with the language, then I will give it a try.

Anyway, thanks you so much for your encouragement and your advices! :slight_smile:

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@AndyMender Yes, that’s the idea I have in mind right now. I have started to read a novel in Japanese too, and surely it is a pleasure to little by little understand things and learn new words and expressions as well as new grammar patterns. I feel that sense of joy too. :slight_smile:

Thanks a lot for the link to the classification of Aozora Bunko texts by WK level and also for your encouragement!

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@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:

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@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?