Thoughts on Quality in J>E Translation


Quality is the primary goal of translation. Profit is not. The translation industry makes a big mistake when pursuing profit with no regard for quality. For freelancers, this means money should only be made through quality work. For agencies, this means having a clear quality standard.

One way to measure quality in Japanese to English translation is that the translated English document should be clearer than the source Japanese document. By nature, the Japanese language is more ambiguous than the English language (one example is the frequent omission of the subject). A literal translation of a Japanese document would, therefore, render an unclear English translation. And a properly translated English document should sound even clearer than the source Japanese document.

Quality must take place both ways. Translation agencies contribute to quality just as much as the translators. Agencies should provide concrete feedback to translators; translators should respond to such feedback in a timely manner. It’s easy to identify a translation agency that disregards quality. One indicator is if they outsource “TEP” (translation, editing and proofreading) to a single freelancer. Hiring one freelancer to do all three functions defeats the purpose of the TEP quality assurance process. Another indicator is if a translation agency does not disclose their quality assurance process. Agencies should not hide how they select their contractors, as well as the steps they take to make sure their contractors are doing their jobs properly.

Both freelance translators and translation agencies should place primary emphasis on quality. The collaboration of such “quality-minded” individuals will be beneficial to all parties, including freelancers, agencies, clients and the clients’ customers.

Priorities for a Sustainable Freelance Translation Career


There are many elements that play into a freelance translation career: clients, rates, deadline, subject matter, etc. What needs to be prioritized? What will make one’s freelance career most sustainable?

I suggest the following order of priority in freelance translation:

  1. Quality
  2. Health
  3. Money

First, money is an important factor in freelance translation, because after all freelancing is a job. For many of us who are doing it full-time, making a living would be one of the most important goals. But the pursuit of money alone is not sustainable. Accepting more jobs than you can comfortably handle will deteriorate your health. Freelance translators are oftentimes juggling multiple deadlines and dozens if not hundreds of pages to translate. The toll this takes on your physical health, not to say the least your mental health, is huge. Just because you are offered a job at a good rate, it’s better to prioritize your health so that you can continue to work vigorously in the following month, rather than push yourself for the extra revenue in the current month and feel sluggish the next month.

But, just because you are healthy and choosing your jobs wisely, it does not guarantee that you are working with good people and on interesting jobs. Quality is the single factor that helps you get connected with the good clients with people who work with professional ethics. It is also the single factor that attracts difficult and meaningful jobs that a client would not dare ask a novice to translate. Quality, therefore, leads to job satisfaction. Job satisfaction leads to better health. Quality also leads to good connections. And good connections lead to good people and better rates.

So, I ask myself three questions before accepting or declining a job, and they are the following:

  1. Will I be able to ensure quality? If yes, move on to question 2.
  2. Will I be able to finish it comfortably without deteriorating my health? If yes, move on to question 3.
  3. Will I be paid fairly and reasonably? If yes, accept the job.

Even if I can ensure quality, if it’s at the cost of my health, I would decline it. Even if a job pays a good rate, if it’s at the cost of quality or my health, I would decline it. By setting my priorities, I am able to lead a sustainable freelance translation career.


3 Benefits of In-Housing Before Freelancing


I worked as an in-house translator for 2 years between 2009 and 2011 before turning freelance. I’m glad that I worked in-house before freelancing, and here are 3 reasons why:

  1. Mentoring

A senior translator checked my work all the time. In the beginning, she changed almost everything I translated. To me these changes seemed stylistic and it irritated me greatly. But after a year or so, I saw how skillfully she conveyed the concept of the piece and in comparison how I was translating too blandly. Looking back, she gave me the foundation to work as a professional freelance translator.

  1. Teamwork

The team I worked in consisted of several translators, an editor, a project manager, some cross-checkers and a few administrative workers. I got along with the foreigners or gaijin of the group, but I initially struggled to get along with the Japanese cross-checkers who always seemed to be nagging about small things that I thought were negligible in the English language. But dealing with these Japanese cross-checkers taught me that cooperating with Japanese natives is an important part of the production process.

  1. Production

After finishing a set amount of translations, we formatted the documents into publishable format. This was nothing complex like desktop publishing, but it consisted of adjusting the page margins, checking for cut off text at the end of pages, correcting extra spaces, typos, inconsistent fonts, etc. At the end of the process, I felt joy when having the finished work in my hands. As a team, we saw the raw Japanese text transform into translated English text and then into a published book.

In-Housing Before Freelancing?

To translation students aspiring to become professionals in the future, I totally recommend in-housing before freelancing. But, for those who don’t have that opportunity, I suggest the following three points: 1) To join a translation organization and find a mentor; 2) To work for an agency that treats you as part of their team; 3) To look at the finalized/published version of your translation when available.

Ethics in Freelance Translation: 10 Things Not to Do

  1. Don’t translate into your non-native language.
  1. Don’t outsource work or work in a team without prior consent of the client.
  1. Don’t accept jobs in subjects you are not familiar with.
  1. Don’t accept jobs beyond your daily capacity at the expense of quality.
  1. Don’t decline jobs after once accepting them.
  1. Don’t neglect to follow project specifications, including style guides and glossaries.
  1. Don’t neglect informing PMs about important information they haven’t noticed, such as repetitions or errors in the source text.
  1. Don’t ignore follow-up emails or phone calls from PMs, especially if it’s for revisions or questions about the translation you submitted.
  1. Don’t shut down the work of others, especially when you are working together with other translators, editors and proofreaders.

10. Don’t neglect to follow security instructions, such as destroying all files (including translation memory) related to the project you did.

Job Details That Matter


Deadline, workflow, client feedback, profit margin, etc.–these are details that may matter to project managers (PMs). But what are the details that matter to freelance translators? When a freelancer gets a job order, there are details that matter more to them than PMs may think. I’ve seen many PMs in full control of the process and workflow, but somewhat negligent of the care and consideration towards communication with freelancers; for example, by assigning jobs with an automated message that just says “a job request is waiting confirmation.”

Time Zone

Jobs should be assigned in the translator’s time zone. Some PMs assign all jobs in their own local time. The problem with this is that some jobs may be assigned at midnight translator time, even though it’s daytime PM time. Also, expecting a job to be delivered at 3 a.m. translator’s time is also rude and inconsiderate. By working in the translator’s time zone, PMs can make sure they are not assigning jobs late at night or expecting delivery before dawn.


Don’t expect that freelancer’s rates will remain the same for many years. I’ve had agencies I registered 5 years ago request a job to me for the same rate as back then. But, obviously, my rates have changed in the past 5 years and, in fact, I have changed them almost every year. Also, when requesting work by the hour, PMs should always have in mind that it takes time to prepare for a job, to review the reference files, to work out any glitches in the CAT tool, to perform QA processes, etc. It isn’t just the time spent actually translating.

Task Specification

What does the task entail? An order that just asks for translation, editing or proofreading isn’t enough. Knowing the audience or purpose of the task is critical to tailoring the language to the reader. Proofreading and editing is done more efficiently if the points that need to be checked are clearly communicated. Most importantly, PMs should know that poor translations don’t miraculously turn into a good translation by asking a proofreader. When a translation is poorly done, it may be necessary for the proofreader to send it back for re-translation.

What Matters

In the end, what matters most is the communication and follow-up with translators. They are not just one process in a complicated workflow, but rather members working in the same team. Technology automates so many processes and workflows, but the care and consideration that goes into human communication cannot and should not be automated.

Why Time Management is Important for Freelance Translators


Freelance translators sell their time translating as a service. Maximizing output of translated words over time, therefore, increases income. But output is governed by productivity, which in turn is influenced by distraction.

Attention Span

As a freelance translator, I experience many distractions: family, chores, surfing the internet, watching tv, shopping for groceries, you name it. Once I’m distracted, I find it hard to get back on track. This is how I lose productivity.

How, then, can attention be maximized and distraction minimized? I think the first step is to break away from the habit of working 8 hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Some people are more focused early in the morning, while others can concentrate better late at night. Unless working by the hour, I find it to be more productive to work during my most focused hours.

Time Management

A successful freelance translation career cannot be separated from good time management. Some indicators of time management in freelance translation are translation output per hour, translation output per day, translation output per week and translation output per month.

Translating at maximum capacity for an hour will not convert to maximum output per day. Likewise, translating at maximum capacity for a day will not convert to maximum output per week. No one can work at maximum capacity for days on end. Only machines can. Attention is lost; quality is impacted. That’s why time needs to be managed.

Pomodoro Technique

I personally use the Pomodoro Technique to manage my time. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that breaks down work time into 25 minute intervals followed by a 5 minute break. After four 25 minute intervals, a longer 15 minute break is taken. This ensures better attention and less distraction during the 25 minutes.

I usually do four 25-minute intervals early in the morning, four during the day, and four late at night. That’s only 6 hours of work, including 30 minutes of break. I don’t work 8 hours or only during the day. But I get more done, I experience less stress, and I produce more in the long run–all thanks to time management.

Anxieties that Come with Working as a Freelance Translator


About one year into doing freelance translation as a full-time job, I started experiencing many unusual things about my health, which I later found out to be due to stress and anxiety.

Overuse of my eyes

My work required me to stare at the computer screen for over 10 hours a day. About one year into living this way, I noticed that my eyes were drying up quicker than before, and my right eye was red all the time. It even started hurting (somewhere deep inside) at the end of a long workday, and I had to put a hot towel over my eyes to bear with the pain. At its worst, I reached the point where I couldn’t open my right eye at all, so I had to work with just my left eye.

Meeting deadlines

I also found myself dealing with multiple obligations. Oftentimes, I was working on two or three jobs simultaneously. I was working beyond my capacity, and that continued for weeks. Before I knew it, these deadlines were disturbing my sleep patterns and making me nervous all the time. I had to do more in less time and still produce the same quality.

Anxiety attack

One night, when I was out shopping, I had an anxiety attack for the first time. All of a sudden, I was sweating, breathing hard, felt like fainting and everything in front of me went blank. I had to lie down for a while until I got better. And I had to cancel or postpone my ongoing jobs. But that was only the first time, and I would experience many of these anxiety attacks over the course of my freelance work.

Making a living

After the anxiety attack, I decided to cut my workload. But when I did so, I started losing many of the clients I used to have. I became their second, third or fourth choices, due to not being as responsive and available as before. All of a sudden I wasn’t making enough for a living, and expenses like insurance, medical bills, taxes and other costs all got me worried. But I knew that getting back into the old habit of overworking would only give me more anxiety.

Quality is like a magnet

While dealing with these anxiety issues, I noticed one thing, and that is, as long as you stick to quality, there will always be someone out there who will find you. That’s been the case for me for the past 4 years, and each time I needed a job, I would somehow find one. There’s something mystic about quality. It’s like a magnet that attracts you to the right people at the right time. My personal solution to anxiety in freelance translation has been to remain confident that quality will save me in the end. And so far it has.