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Tips for a Translation Submission!

Many English-language manga publishers send a prospective translator a sample chapter as a test. Here are some points editors use to evaluate them. Do a good job on these, and you'll stand a much better chance of getting hired!

by MAL_editing_team
Oct 3, 2017 8:46 PM | 20,175 views

Sample Chapter Translation Checklist

When a new translator applies for a job to manga publishers, many will give that translator a sample chapter to determine the person’s strengths and weaknesses. If this should happen to you, remember that how well this chapter is translated will determine if the company will hire you or not, so it is very important that your work on the chapter be top quality.Here are some things you might want to check before you submit the translation of that chapter.

Japanese Comprehension:

I shouldn't need to tell you that you must know your Japanese. It’s part of the job description.


Pretty much every line should have some sort of correct punctuation. It doesn’t necessarily have to match the punctuation of the Japanese original, but in those cases where the Japanese original punctuation is appropriate for your translated sentence, it’s generally safer to take your cues from the Japanese. Just be aware that the Japanese tend to overuse ellipses compared to English.

Translate Everything:

Are there signs in the background? Translate them. Even if you don’t think they have any bearing on the story, translate them anyway, and leave the editor a note to that effect. Sometimes you may overlook small sound effects. Check each panel thoroughly. If there are symbols within the balloons like hearts, stars, vein-popping symbols, etc., make sure you note that they should be reproduced, or left as-is, in the English version.

Check Your Grammar:

If you haven’t read Strunk & White or the Chicago Manual of Style, read one or both. Learn what you’re doing wrong and correct it. What you write is meant for publication, and small grammatical mistakes can embarrass a company. The editor’s job is not really to proofread your writing but rather to make sure that your facts are straight, the characters are consistent, and everything gets done on time. A merely competent translator who uses consistently good grammar will get more assignments than a genius who constantly has bad grammar. Also watch your verb tenses, especially in narration captions.

Write Colloquial Dialog:

Knowing Japanese is only half the job of a translator these days. You also need to write narration and dialog that sound natural. In general, awkward phrases can be easily detected by going through one easy step: read your translation out loud. When you’re actually able to hear your own voice saying what you just wrote, you can usually tell when it isn’t written as well as it should be. And while reading it, you may find that you already know a better way of saying it.

Make it In-Character:

Your characters should sound somewhat different from each other and talk in ways that's appropriate to that particular character. If that character is well educated, have that character use bigger words. If the character is grumpy, have them speak in short, clipped sentences. Find the "voice" for each character and use it consistently. But remember that you really only need one or maybe two unusual words (maybe less) in any line of dialog to get the character across, so don't go overboard with your thesaurus.

Know The Chapter’s Theme:

If the author of the chapter has any sort of writing skill, the chapter will have a theme or point the author wants to communicate. As translator, recognize that point, and give extra thought to lines that directly relate to the theme of the chapter. Translate the chapter title with the theme in mind. If there is dialog related to the theme, make sure those lines get extra consideration in how to phrase them.

Look Out for Possible Foreshadowing:

Some of the chapter's captions or dialog may foreshadow later events. Try to pick up on these and translate them very carefully. This is especially true if you’re tying for a job translating manga that is being published simultaneously with its Japanese chapter, and you can't reference later books to make sure. Any loosely translated line can come back and bite you when it becomes a flashback in a later chapter, possibly revealing a new meaning to the line in the new context. If you didn't translate it with both meanings in mind, the dialog you wrote the first time may be completely inappropriate for the later context. The trick here is to stick as closely to the Japanese as you possibly can.

Although this will probably be the first-and-only time you ever see the chapter, the editor who judges the translations will have read the chapter dozens of times, translated by dozens of different people. That editor will know the chapter inside and out, and the only way to impress that editor is to translate the chapter in such a way as to convey nearly everything the author wanted to say.

Good luck!

William (Bill) Flanagan started translating manga professionally in 1991 with Raika (Kaumi Fujiwara & Yu Terashima) and has been translating and editing manga ever since. He rose to be Director of Editorial of Viz Media in the early 2000s and from then on, has had his hand in top-selling manga. He also translates anime, games, TV, movies and novels. Representative manga translations include Alice in Murderland (Kaori Yuki), Fairy Tail (Hiro Mashima), and A Bride's Story (Kaoru Mori). He lives with his wife and son in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture, Japan.
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