Polish Your Apples

How to write a smooth, natural translation, the FunkyCorp way 

by Jeremy Kuhles 

For many of our projects, we create natural and creative translations that help bring Japan to a global audience. On most projects, we ask for no additions or omissions and a well-written, direct translation. 

Wait. What? A direct translation? So that means FunkyCorp wants text filled with phrases like “Let’s enjoy a happy time” and “It is often said that Japan is a country of four seasons”? Well, if that’s what you want… 

Nope, that’s definitely not what we want. 

Japanese source text doesn’t translate very easily into English as is. Some serious work is required to get the translated text into shape. This is where you come in. 

When you craft a well-written, direct translation at an early stage — essentially an apple to polished apple translation — we have the perfect base to reshape the text in-house into something more creative. The reason we don’t ask you to be uber-creative at this stage is that our clients want to be sure that their message is being correctly transmitted in a different language. Our account managers do an excellent job of assuring them that the translated text delivers the same message in an accurate and engaging way, but this often involves explaining every alteration in minute detail. 

That doesn’t mean you have no room for creativity. Here are some tips for crafting well-written translated texts:

Avoid the traps 

”〜探してみましょう” is a common phrase in text for museums or national parks. Directly translated, it’s “Let’s look for…” which sounds like something a kindergarten teacher might instruct her tribe of toddlers to do. Replace this with something more natural like “Search for…” or “Seek out…”

など is another phrase that crops up in plenty of Japanese source texts and I can understand why many translators plump for “etc.” Think about using “including” “some of the main…” or “the highlights are…” depending on the context.

Another common trap is ”〜と言われています。” How many times have you seen it translated as “It is said that…”? Well, who said it? This can be tricky to translate without making any contextual additions, but if the specifics are unclear, go for something more natural, like “Local legend has it that…” “Historians have suggested that…”

Keep it smooth 

Japanese sentences translated directly are clunky and jarring, so feel free to cut sentences in two to make your translation read more naturally. It can help to read your translated sentences out loud. If it doesn’t sound like something you’d naturally say, there is something wrong. This is especially true if you are translating for an audio guide. 

Here’s an excerpt from a project we worked on. We chopped the source text into two English sentences for better readability.  

川湯地域には生きている火山、豊かな森林、豊富な水をたたえる湖などの自然があり、人々が暮らし、その営みによって生まれた歴史・文化があります。

(Base translation) 

The Kawayu area is home to active volcanoes, large caldera lakes, and vast primeval forests and the history of human interaction with the landscape is long and very diverse.

(Revised translation)

The Kawayu area is home to active volcanoes, large caldera lakes, and vast primeval forests. The history of human interaction with the landscape is long and very diverse.

Hopefully, this has given you some insight into our translation process. We’d love to hear from you about your experience with creative translation, or if you have preferred ways of handling the translation traps. Please let us know in the comments box below. 


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