Amateur translation, the bar is as low as we let it fall

In this tiny world of Visual Novel translation, there are a great deal of us amateur translators. The market is tiny and there’s really only room for so many professional translators in the area. There are some real differences between Professionals and Amateurs, differences that often matter. Some help the pro do their work better, some work against the pro. But either way, I see no reason why us amateurs can’t hold our heads just as high in our work here.

Yes, what I’m talking about is us amateurs holding ourselves to professional standards whenever possible. I’m talking about being that thing Wikipedia calls Professional Amateurs. I’m talking about setting the bar as high as we can set it, right around where professionals set their bars, then working towards achieving it.

Why am I writing about this? Well yet again, it goes back to my previous editorial primarily about the people who go “Give them a break, they’re doing it for free, don’t demand so much, or do it yourself!” In that article, I was offering beatings with a Clue Stick™ because that argument essentially asks us users to lower our standards simply “because it’s free.” If I passed out rotten apples on the street for free, and when someone complained I told them the same argument, aside from legal trouble, I’d be very quickly run out of town or otherwise shunned. I’d certainly have no one taking my apples.

But this time, I’m looking at the other side. Why is it that simply because you’re doing something for no pay, and thus, are an amateur, do some people like to think we can’t, or shouldn’t try to, hold ourselves to the same standards as professionals? I personally don’t see how there can be nothing but shame for deliberately setting the bar within reach of what we can do now as opposed to what we want to be able to do tomorrow.

I’ll admit right now, professionals can be vastly different from us. They are often very experienced, which is critical, and the competition involved in making a living at something constantly hones their skills. I’m not suggesting we measure ourselves against the super-star professionals, the people with special natural talents honed to a razor’s edge over years of practice, such as professional Go/igo/weiqi/baduk players, or some sports players, etc.. These people are special even among pros, else they wouldn’t become famous.

But, to notice the bright flowers, there needs to be the backdrop of green foliage, right? We likely can’t be the brightest flowers in any field, however, we can still proudly work to stand amongst the leaves, as opposed to being the dirt underneath.

Even with the considerable advantages working in favor of professionals having higher quality work, they also can have some disadvantages which may detract from it, many of which, us amateurs are spared from.

One big one is that us amateurs can pick what we translate. We can pick something that fires our passion and resonates with our souls and talents. We can pick something we are intimately familiar with, where we understand the jokes, the hidden meanings, all of it.

This should give us the drive and motivation to keep working hard, on a project. And moreover, because we have chosen something that speaks to us on some level, dare I say we’ve picked something something we love, out of respect and pride for that love, why shouldn’t we hold ourselves to the best standards possible?

Part of being a professional is being able to handle any job thrown your way, but I don’t doubt for a moment that a professional will do better if they get a piece of work they can become deeply passionate about. Whether that actually happens is mostly the luck of the draw.

Another issue is time. Amateurs potentially have lots of it. We don’t usually have a hard deadline to meet before our client gets angry. We can, in theory, drag our activities out as long as we need. Meaning, if it takes a pro a week to do a piece of work, we might take two weeks, a month, maybe three months to do the same thing and get it to the same standard.

We may not be able to do it in the same time, but is there any reason why we can’t just take longer? Sure, we have to balance taking far too long, but within reason, we can take our time and not suffer the horrible stresses of needing something finished on time.

There are a few gaps which we don’t have complementing potential strengths, for example, a professional has more resources at their disposal. They probably invested in a large library of dictionaries, have translation aids perhaps, and probably know many other translators who they can ask for some advice.

Sadly, these are things that we won’t have at our disposal unless we invest that sort of money and time connecting to people ourselves, but low-cost online dictionary services and online forums can make it somewhat tolerable. It does require being more resourceful however and still some things are simply out of reach.

What I feel really separates the average professional from an aspiring amateur is practical ability and experience. Professionals simply practice more than we do. This is a gap that can only really be closed with time and practice on our part, usually not something you can improve and instantly apply on project by project basis. There’s just no way around it, and you probably don’t notice the improvement unless you look at your old work and feel a rush of embarrassment.

This is why I talk about holding ourselves to the best standards possible, with an aim at keeping pace with professionals. When you start out, no one expects professional grade work, it’s ridiculous to even entertain the thought. However, how are you going to improve if you don’t try?

Moreover, where do you think professionals get their professional skills? They do a piece, look at it, and make it look professional, right? And they do it so much, eventually they do it without much thinking. It’s not a magic gift, it’s practice. And if you lower the bar, you’re — not — practicing.

So, my point is, because we are amateurs, because we’re doing things out of love and interest, we owe it to ourselves to do the best that we can possibly do. There are millions of ways to spend our spare time, we happened to choose this one, and I’d like to hope that we want to improve at it instead of just stagnating.

So, Raise The Bar! Hold it high, hold it proud. Set it as high as you can get it, then when you finally manage to touch it, go higher!

There’s meaning in doing so.

Your readers, your community, those who rely on you to do for them what they can’t do for themselves, will thank you for it.


  1. Rawr
    04/18/2008 10:07 AM | #

    That’s quite an interesting view on the argument. I’ve never thought of the opposite side of this argument, much to my embarrassment lol. I think you’re right when you say translators owe it to themselves to do the best they can to uphold their dignity, and the dignity of the piece of work they’re translating. Since if they do a shitty job on the translation, there’s little doubt that fans won’t receive the work well, and they’ll either blame the game for sucking or the translator. However, seeing as we fans know nothing about the original source, it’s more likely we’ll blame the piece for sucking. So by doing a bad job, they’re giving what they’re translating a bad name amongst the fans. In that case, the piece they were translating would have been better off being left untouched.

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