23 January 2012

How to become game translator

Many people asked us suggestions on how to become game translator. In broad terms, videogame translation is a branch of technical/software translation, and requires similar core skills.

A good half of professionals have a degree in translation or foreign languages. The other half has worked their way up, either as project managers, or translating other specialist topics like programming and engineering, that they knew through personal studies or experience.

While working without a formal background is common, understand that it will be harder to find work and then to execute it, as you will be learning the tools of the trade on your own. Distance learning could be a good compromise. From English certifications like TOEFL or ESOL to translation diplomas through the IoLET or Open University, there are many options for acquiring a solid preparation while having a full time job.

Also, remember that languages are a life-style: if you plan to finish your work (or study) day and then ignore them, you will not become a great linguist. Merge languages into the very fabric of your life. Your neighborhood has a foreigner association? Become a member! A nearby cinema runs a foreign films festival? Join it! I can guarantee, that’s the single best career advice they ever gave me.

Also, don’t forget that creating a good translation requires a perfect understanding of the source, but also have a full mastery of your own language. After all, you must be able to bend it and shape it in all sort of odd ways for it to express ideas and concepts that may be completely foreign to it (and maybe also to you!) Being a media sponge, absorbing from tabloids to Shakespeare, from game magazines to TV shows is part of your work as a games translator.

But, if so much must be done alone, why do you need formal studies? Surely, living in the USA for a couple of years should be more than enough!

Not really. You can find many translators ranting discussing about this, so I’ll be brief. It’s like saying that eating out a lot makes you fit for being a chef. Sure, you can’t be a cook without being a foodie, like you can’t translate without being bilingual, but the gap in the level of detail, dedication and technique is so wide that the two can’t really compare.

One striking example? As a team of three, we translate together and answer to clients together. When we translate, our styles are very similar, to the point that we sometimes wonder who did what. When we write to clients, we can spot it at first sight. Writing and translating are just not the same.

Ok, but what about games?

It’s a young field, but we can say that most professional agree on some standard practices. If we sent an amateur translation to a group of professionals, most of them would probably flag the same issues. Only thing, these practical “rules” are rarely codified. If you think about it, most game localization blogs  -including ours- are just doing that, writing down this crystallized experience, and counting the number of nods coming from other translators. So, the only way to learn these “rules” is as an apprentice/collaborator.

Learning as a games translator can be harsh. The main interest in new and inexperienced translators is making a profit out of them, and rates can fall outrageously low. It might be worth if you have enough experience to learn quickly and you can get a decent pay through your other qualifications - that’s why I stressed the importance of a good education.

To find a freelance gig, just Google "How to become a freelance translator" or "Freelance translation jobs" and browse specialist websites like Proz.com or Translators cafe. Another interesting option for filling your CV is joining amateur projects. Just try to focus on reputable open-source titles more than grey-area ROM hacking or hardcore hentai!

Another learning route is in-house, as a tester or as a project manager.

The insight you will get is priceless: I left Rockstar Games almost 7 year ago, but I still leverage that experience today. Also, you would be able to make at least a decent living. On the flipside, you will probably have to move to England or Ireland. Depending on where you live, you might find some “national” jobs, at least inside translation agencies, but you must accept that chances may be lower and salaries poorer. For a testing gig, search +"localization tester" +yourlanguage on Google and browse the websites of the main publishers (Sega, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, Square-Enix, Rockstar games, etc). Tom Sloper covered the matter very well, so I recommend to check his website very thoroughly (not only for testing, but for all game related jobs)

What about passion?

Being a huge gamer must help, no? Well, it’s like being bilingual VS being a translator: enjoying something is different from making it. And, as a video games translator, you are effectively a game writer, and there’s a lot to learn (And we are still learning too!)

Passion is good, but always remember to be modest. Do you remember “Dirty Dancing”? Baby was a great dancer for a tourist but, before joining the pros, she had to earn their trust.

When you write to a professional games translator, keep in mind that they spent most of their waking time on that topic alone, for years. Show your passion, but also be humble and respectful, and they will gladly show you all their dirtiest moves, no watermelon required :)

Best of luck!

(cover credits)