How to: Translating

How to: Translating –Sephi-style!

I want to start off by saying that there is no one best method to translate. Everyone translates differently, and the following guide is simply the method which I personally happen to use. This guide isn’t meant to be a tutorial –it’s meant to be a guide. I would highly encourage any aspiring translators to figure out a method of translating that works out best for their individual needs.

The following method is something I came up with to best fit my personal needs: to be able to practice and better my Japanese reading and understanding skills without having to pay for or download any third-party programs. It works for me because this method was specifically tailored to my personal needs and my proficiency levels in both the original and target languages. But, it will not necessarily work as well for everyone. Again, I highly encourage any aspiring translators to try out different things to tailor a translation method that works best for you.


1. Know the story before you begin.

I never begin translating until I know I comprehend the specific portion of the story that I’m about to translate. The most obvious way to do this is to read ahead, which is why I usually finish reading a volume before I begin translating it. In Rain‘s case, I read ahead into portions of the manga, which has already been translated to a degree, because I am lazy and because I’d already read the manga before.

It’s helpful to know the story, or at least a part of the story, before you begin because it helps prevent errors that naturally arise from the difference between the original and target languages’ narrative discourses. This is particularly true of Japanese/Korean to English translation because Japanese/Korean is generally more contextual than English. It’s easier to ensure that you’re translating something vague correctly if you know what happens next.

2. Write down the romanization on a Word document. Look up any unfamiliar words.

I translate page by page (by which I mean one screen of text on whichever ebook reader I happen to be using).

I like to romanize the text before I begin the actual ‘translating’ portion of my translation process because it ensures that I was able to read and understand the entire page and I am 100% sure of what’s happening on that page. My biggest weakness with Japanese is reading kanji, so romanizing everything as I go helps me practice (e.g., if I know what a kanji means but don’t know how it’s pronounced in that particular situation or if I don’t recognize the kanji at all). If I don’t know the definition of a word, I look it up in a dictionary (such as jisho.org) and write down the meaning next to the romanization of that word in parentheses.

EX) Watashi wa sono mama suwari-konda.

I romanize particles as they are pronounced, not as they’re written. I add hyphens for compounds because Japanese has a lot of real-but-not-technically-real words you can make simply by adding something like teki (的) at the end. If I didn’t know the meaning of a word, it’d look something like this: Watashi (I). I also write numbers down in parentheses as such: niman(20,000)-nin.

If there is a particular phrase that I know that I want to translate in a particular manner (e.g., idioms) later, I write it down next to the romanization in double-parentheses ((like this)).

I do not romanize when translating from Korean because the romanization is actually harder for me to read as a native speaker. I type down the actual Korean instead, but do everything else in English.

I keep a separate Word document per series to keep track of names/places/terminology to ensure consistency.

3. Transliterate.

I only used to do this step when I first started translating and no longer do it anymore.

Back when I used to do this step, I would add a line break after a paragraph of romanized text (because, as opposed to a paragraph break, it would keep the translation attached to the romanized paragraph) and translate the paragraph literally. After I was done with the transliteration, I changed the text color of the romanization to red. (The color doesn’t matter, red just happens to be the default text color on Word.)

EX) Watashi wa sono mama suwari-konda.
Just as I was, I sat down.

Transliteration produces a very rough English translation, as you may have noticed in the example above. While some people prefer to translate as literally as possible, and I respect their decision to do so, I prioritize readability and flow in the target language. My main goal for translating outside of my own studies is to share the story I’m translating with as many people as possible in the target language. I strongly believe that making the translation as natural to the target language as possible is one of the largest factors in determining if I’ve succeeded or not. After all, in my opinion, it’s frustrating when I’m trying to read something in English and the English doesn’t make sense to me even as a native speaker. Which brings us to the next step…

4. Localize.

Back when I still did step 3, I went down the page again and wrote down a polished version of the transliteration I did in step 3 after another line break and changed the text color of the transliteration to another color. Now, I simply go straight to this step without doing a rough transliteration.

EX) Watashi wa sono mama suwari-konda.
Just as I was, I sat down.
I sat down where I stood.

Localization is where I believe translation truly shines as an art (and yes, I consider translating to be an art). This round of translation is heavily based on the context of the line and my interpretation of it. I try to keep as much of the original as I can. However, Japanese/Korean and English are two fundamentally different languages. There is a lot of implied connotation in Japanese/Korean that would normally be written out in English.

For example, “just as I was” vs “where I stood”. The direct translation from the Japanese そのまま (sono mama) in this case means “as it is/as (I am)”. Logistically, however, a character is likely to be standing upright before sitting down and “where I stood” is a commonly used phrase in English that carries a certain kind of connotation with it. In addition, while I couldn’t do this in the example, I also take the rest of implications in the scene into consideration as well. For example, if the character was exhausted, I might use “plopped” instead of “sat”. Or, if the character has received some kind of mental shock and are sitting down in a dramatic fashion, I might use “sank” instead or tack on an adjective like “slowly”.

Sometimes, when I know that there is an English idiom that accurately captures the connotation of a sentence or phrase, I’ll use that instead of a translation that would be closer to the literal meaning of the original.

It is important to note that I try to keep as much of the original formatting as possible. This is why you’ll see me use things like double ellipses (……) instead of the normal (…). It is because that is how it appears in the original Japanese. When you only see a single ellipses or em-dash, it is because I added them into the translation to help it flow better. I also try to keep sentence structure as close to the original as possible, with the help of semi-colons when two phrases that don’t belong in the same sentence are together in a single Japanese/Korean sentence (but I’ll still separate them into two separate sentences if it really doesn’t work out). Additionally, keep in mind that Japanese/Korean sometimes uses conjunctions differently than you would in English. I fix that in this step.

I also add “s/he continued,” if there is a sentence in between two lines of dialogue between the same character to help readability. In English, you are supposed to switch speakers with a new paragraph, so it helps clear up some confusion because this rule does not hold in Japanese/Korean.

5. Edit and finalize.

After I’m done translating the page, I start again from the top and read over localized translation to make sure it makes sense. When I know I’m happy with it, I erase the romanization (and the transliteration if applicable). Basically, I know that I’m done with a paragraph after I’ve gotten rid of everything attached to it that’s not black.

I usually end up erasing things almost immediately after reading over my localization because at this point of my translating career, I typically get it on my first try. Feel free to take your time and try out different wordings of the same sentence/phrase until you’re happy with it. When I first started translating, I’d sometimes have three-four localized translations underneath my romanization that I had to choose between.

If you have an editor, you can have them do this step for you.

6. Proofread, proofread, proofread.

I proofread at the end once I am done with the chapter/part. (This is what I do when the status page says “Editing”. Technically that is inaccurate. Whoops.) I basically just read through the entire Word document to check for typos and other stupid mistakes. I might also play around with wording if I feel like I can make something sound better when my brain in completely in English-mode.

If you have a proofreader, you can have them do this step for you.


Aaand…that’s basically it. I end up proofreading through the volume one last time before compiling the ebook.

Anyhow, I hope this helps~ 🙂

Note: I’m too tired to proofread this right now. Will do later. Maybe.

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