In the second installment of Translation Challenges, I discussed one additional challenge with translating names: readings. I have yet to find out if our 知香 is actually Chika or if she’s Satoka or Tomoka. I’ll share here if and when it comes up!
In this installment, I’d like to talk about one more challenge we face: English in the Japanese.
As I’m sure many of our readers are aware, Japanese are not known for their high level of English, despite having to study English for years in school. Of course, there are many Japanese (some of our coworkers included) who speak English fluently or with a high level of proficiency. The issue is that access to and opportunities for English outside of the classroom are relatively limited in Japan. This results in the thorn in our side as editors called Japlish or Japanglish, which is alive and well on the streets and in manga.
I have only been with Renta! for a short while, but I have already encountered this issue twice. The first time was a manga about a university student. She’s in her English class and spacing out. The teacher calls out to her and asks her to translate the Japanese sentence in her textbook into English. She stands up, inhales, and spouts off:
The person who has that says “He should make the child now put on the cooperativeness through a group life.”
Grammatically, this is flawless. She mustn’t have been that spaced out. But, it does sound like someone threw Japanese into an online translator, then copied and pasted the English into the manga. To the Japanese who has only studied English in the classroom, it seems natural enough to be actual English yet foreign enough that it might as well be Ancient Greek.
How do we bilingual editors handle this case?
We usually “translate” it into more natural English. In this case, we could render the above as something like:
They said, “children should be cooperative with others.”
In the second case, the story involved an interpreter and her client, a half-Japanese and half-British musician who pretended not to speak Japanese while on tour in Japan to thwart off the media. He’s meeting with her to discuss his schedule. Her colleague is in attendance at the meeting. They are jokingly talking about him in Japanese. He laughs. The colleague gets flustered, thinking he’s understood what they were saying. He explains:
I’m sorry! The laughing in the mail from a friend!
We could probably guess what he’s trying to say and “translate” this into more natural English since it isn’t too strange. However, a Japanese translation was provided at the bottom, which explained:
I’m sorry! I was laughing at a text from my friend!
We strive to give the exact same feel in our manga to English-reading audiences as the original, but if we wrote ごめん！友人からのメールに笑っちゃって in our English version, we might leave readers frustrated trying to figure out what he’s saying. So, we opt to erase the “English” and translate the Japanese into English. Then, we would letter the fonts so that it looks and feels like the characters are not speaking in English. One additional reason for lettering it this way is that characters speaking in a foreign language often have their lines written in katakana (usually used to write words imported into Japanese from English or other non-Asian languages) to show non-Japanese speech, but is also occasionally used to show broken/accented Japanese if a non-native is speaking in Japanese.