What Does It Take To Work At A Localization Studio In Japan?

By Ishaan . April 8, 2011 . 4:03pm

Like development studios, every localization studio has its own processes and pipelines for projects, to ensure they’re of good quality and as efficient as possible. For instance, Active Gaming Media translate games from Japanese to English, but also French, Italian, German and Spanish, which is far larger in scope than a one-way translation.


So, what does it take to be able to work at a localization studio with the scope of Active Gaming Media?


“The ability to carry out your day-to-day with at least an intermediate level of Japanese is definitely a requirement,” localization project manager, Justin Potts, tells us, “though you don’t necessarily need to be a ‘master’ of the language.”


That doesn’t mean the job automatically becomes easier, though.


“In this job, if you’re a translator, you’re also an editor.  You have to be able to pick apart your own work, as well as that of others,” he warns. “We’re all only human, so we do our very best to make sure that a translator’s work is seen by as many eyes as possible before being submitted, but time constraints can be severe, and with everyone often simultaneously working on multiple projects, you can’t necessarily rely on being able to get “X” number of proofreads or checks prior to submission.”


Translating games also requires a certain level of stamina to ensure that you can plod your way through the more monotonous parts of the job without losing steam or creativity, and it’s up to each member of the team to bring themselves up to scratch.


“A far as qualifications go, Japanese language ability is a given, as is writing ability,” Potts reveals.  “In addition, organization and management skills are crucial, as well as the ability to work rapidly and efficiently for long periods of time.” 


He continued: “This really just requires a lot of ‘training’.  Much in the same way a marathon runner would train over time in order to develop speed and endurance for long distance runs, a good translator has to essentially ‘build up’ to being able to process thousands of words/characters a day while maintaining focus and creativity.”


“This is much more difficult than it may sound, particularly when you’re dealing in your second (or third) language,” he warned. “The work can be pretty taxing at times and the responsibility of producing a quality localization is very much that of the translator and/or project manager handling each particular project.”

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  • Zanasea

    It’s good that they put this emphasis on proofreading and editing. In video game translation, this part is often neglected… because it’s really the most annoying part of the job. But it’s absolutely essential if you want quality and consistency.

  • Stamina? I wonder what the work hours are and if they are pulling more than the average 10AM to 4PM work hours. More power unto them, I do not think I could handle it, which is why I pursued Chinese as a fun hobby and dedicated my life to scientific research and quantitative analyses.

    These articles give me new appreciation for translators, not just the stamina, but the seemingly time constraints they have to deal with. I love these insights into the industry.

    • 10AM to 4PM? That’s really “soft work”… Most people work more ours than that. There was a time I worked and studied (I worked as a high school teacher while I was enrolled in two colleges) from 7AM to 9PM and I didn’t die or anything. Here in Brazil people usually work from 7AM to 6PM.

      • Ren

        We Brazilians just have generally high work journeys compared to certain countries.
        Bem vindo ao site André. Só pra te informar, os únicos que entendem português aqui são eu e Doomrider, mas o dele é portugês europeu.

        • How do you all type like that, Ive always wondered, specially made keyboards? I’ve never been able to do those special marks.

          • unbelievable….

          • Ren

            Hey, it’s not like this is common knowledge. I only realized different countries had different keyboards when I started learning to write japanese on the computer.

          • Ren

            All countries with extra characters have special keyboards. Here is a photo of mine http://i54.tinypic.com/16j21qh.jpg (low quality because of my phone’s camera). You have a ç button (in older keyboards you had to press ´ than c), you have a tilde~ with a shift enabled circumflex^, and a acute´ with a shift enabled grave`. You press the symbol, then the letter you want to put it with, so pressing ´ then a will give you á. If you press space after pressing the symbol, or follow with a incompatible letter, the symbol is printed alone. The only way to write those characters without a char map in your computer is changing your keyboarding settings to a language that has them or going through the alt+numpad_sequence, and that’s really annoying. It’s how I can write japanese. むずかしいでもやりたいならやれる。

          • [The Hunter] Doomrider

            Didn’t you know? Us Europ-… Us non-Amer-… Those of us outside of North America (DAMN YOU REN FOR MAKING THIS DIFFICULT) are magical like that. And we have these awesome magical keyboards to type magical internet spells with “special marks”.

            Don’t feel bad about it.

          • Vino (Tim N)

            You study Chinese and quantitative analyses, and you don’t know how to change the keyboard language to your own computer?


          • Chinese is more beautiful and meaningful when written with pen and paper I feel. Never thought to ever type in it.

          • Eh hehe… I type pinyin in my keyboard. >___< So I don't know about these things either.

        • [The Hunter] Doomrider

          O lostinblue também, mas ele não costuma comentar tantas vezes agora… Deu para perceber tudo o que eu escrevi?xD Anyway, you know André?

          BTW, everything alright with you and your relatives? I hope no one you know was involved in that stuff yesterday…

          Still awful =S

          • Ren

            Da pra entender tudo o que voce fala direitinho, se não, sempre existe dicionario. Nunca falei com lostinblue, nem sabia. Nope, just welcoming him to the site.

            What stuff? Let’s check MSN. Soap opera stuff, motorbike stuff, Jonas Brothers stuff, football stuff, a guy shooting kids in a school stuff… Wait, WTF? Why my family and friends never comment the news to me? They know I never check this stuff. Hmm, I don’t know if I have family on the Zona Oeste, I don’t know much about Rio Capital, I live on the north of the Rio state and never really go there much, it’s a three hour trip with four pedagios. I don’t think it involved anyone I know, or else my mother would be flipping at me already. Oh God, I hope this doesn’t end up involving the favela ringleaders in any way, my city always becomes a war zone when it does, and on Rio it’s even worse. Thank god I live secluded from the rest of the world.

          • [The Hunter] Doomrider

            Nem eu, mas ele também é PT.

            Oh, you didn’t know about it yet? I feel like laughing, but… =P

            That sounds scary. Man, Brazil creeps me out. At least the dark “the dudes from the favelas don’t seem to value anyone’s life” side of it. Anyway, it shouldn’t spark anything with the favela ringleadears, it’s not about money or drugs, so… And the guy is dead anyway. Right? I hope so.

            Anyway, sorry for the off-topic, everyone =S

          • Portuguese…I’m going to have to learn how to speak it within the next year as I’m going to be taking a trip to Portugal for some business. I’m hoping I won’t sound like a complete idiot to Portuguese people if I just take a course in it.

          • [The Hunter] Doomrider

            Nah, don’t worry! Your accent will probably stand out a bit, but that’s normal in a situation like yours. I think it’s pretty cool that you’re making the effort to learn the language.

            I hope you’ll enjoy your time here! Even if it’s not the best time, considering the country is knee-deep in debt, the IMF is intervening and we’re basically the next Ireland =P

      • [The Hunter] Doomrider

        Welcome and stuff <3 Let's spread the greatness of the Portuguese language to the world!

        …. Maybe.

      • irzbos

        9-5 is the norm in the states, not sure where tsuna is getting his timeframes. however a study showed that people on a salary based job that work 9-5 only work 5 out of the 8 hours they are at the job, whereas the people paid hourly work and stay busy all 8 hours. Also a companies production is dropped to about 30% of its normal output every friday. just another interesting result from a study.

    • I know to an extent what he means by stamina. I’ve done some fan translations/subs in my free time, and I’m ready for breaks early and often. Language translation/editing is surprisingly taxing!

  • Ahh yes. The everlasting battle between staying true to the original and portraying the script’s intended meaning…. I can understand why translating things when the script is your second language, or visa versa, is difficult.

    Having chinese as a second language, I’ve noticed subtle differences in word choice. For example, the -ness suffix doesn’t have any direct translation in chinese. Instead, most adjectives are more like similes or metaphors. It may not seem like a big difference, but it allow things to be more interpretive. This is something that I’ve noticed in manga as well, where a sentence is awkwardly poetic. It’s only awkward in english, because people don’t normally talk in similies in everyday conversation. Like, “You’re skin is so snow white!”

    However, if it’s a direct translation of those simile-like adjectives, you’ll realize that in chinese – that *is* that way people talk naturally. I’m guessing it’s probably the same in japanese as well.

    (Then again, chinese is my second language. So I might be wrong in my understanding as well. But I digress.)

    So would you rather have a natural sounding script in english, or your respective language, or would you rather have a script as true to the original as possible?

    • “This is something that I’ve noticed in manga as well, where a sentence is awkwardly poetic. It’s only awkward in english, because people don’t normally talk in similies in everyday conversation. Like, “You’re skin is so snow white!””

      What do you mean? We do have the phrase in Eng, “skin as white as snow,” example, used in Snow White….

      • I mean in normal everyday conversation. When you’re commenting on someone’s complexion, do you normally say they have “skin as white as snow” or do you just call them pale? In English, I just call them pale. But in Chinese, I might say “you have snow white skin”, because the Chinese word for pale could imply that you’re ill.

        • I always took that to mean that they have very beautiful skin in stead of meaning that they are pale? An idiom right, people use those everyday?

          • Hmm.. alright. I guess that makes sense. Then let me use a different example. In the chinese language, there are tons of idioms that make use of fables to draw out their meanings. (Think of it similar to the tortoise and the hare.)

            刻舟求剑 directly translates to marking the boat to search for the sword. This probably makes no sense if you don’t know the story. (Similar to how the tortoise and the hare would make no sense, if you don’t know the story.) The story is about a man who drops his sword in the middle of a boat ride, and marks the area he dropped it on the edge of the boat. Once he gets to more shallow waters, he searches for his sword around the area he marked the boat. Of course, that’s stupid, because the two places are clearly different.

            This four lettered idiom is used to describe situations where someone is being narrow minded and not adapting situations. So when you’re using this, it would be something like “Don’t be so 刻舟求剑.”

            When translating that, you wouldn’t directly translate it as “Don’t mark the boat to search for the sword” because no one would understand it. Nor would you say “Don’t be like the man who dropped his sword in the middle of the boat ride and…” There just isn’t a way to directly translate it. The best you can probably say is something like “Don’t be so oblivious to new circumstances.”

            These four letter idioms exist in the japanese language as well. The same can be said for english idioms and how they don’t have a direct translations either. There isn’t really a way to explain “bite the bullet” in chinese.

            D: Did I go too far? Sorry. >__<

          • What you must keep always in mind in this kind of situations is that the thing that must be conveyed is not the words, but the message.

            Only in puns words are that important (and that’s why they are the most difficult thing to translate).

            When you get an idiom, what you must do is to look for an idiom in your own language that has the more or less the same meaning, even if the words it uses are totally different.

            And trust me, it happens more often that it seems at first glance. That’s why mastery of the target language is even more important than that mastery of the source language (even though it’s still VERY important).

  • “All your base are belong to us”

  • Thanks for the article!
    I translate texts (incl. game scripts) from English/German to Russian. It’s just like you wrote:

    1) you don’t need to be a master of the source language, but MUST UNDERSTAND it very well
    2) you MUST be a master of the target language
    3) the target language MUST be your native language

    That’s it. Three simple MUSTs.
    And yes – creativity IS important ^__^

  • Eri

    Thank you for these articles. As this is the kind of work I’m considering doing in the near future it is really interesting to read :)

  • Active Gaming Media makes translations to Spanish as well?

    Nice! I will keep it mind! ^_^

    I still don’t have enough Japanese level, but I’m not that far away either.

    I already am a game translator (from English to Spanish) and I can vouch for everything they say. It is a tough work, but very satisfying as well.

    They forget about one role, though: The localization testers.

    The localization must be checked out by PLAYING the game and making sure everything works fine. Translators often don’t have time to see texts in game, so you need people PLAYING the game to make sure everything makes sense in context.

    • Is it really that difficult to go from English to Spanish?

      • Well, it all depends on the difficulty of the source text and on the translator’s skill, but I can guarantee that it is more difficult that most people give credit for.

        Or, to be more specific, it is difficult to do it RIGHT.

        Just like when you translate from Japaneses to English you have to make sure that the text sounds natural, you have to do the same when you translate from English to any other language.

        In Spanish, in order to sound natural, you need grammar structures that are more complicated than in English, and a way bigger knowledge in vocabulary. Spanish has been influenced by TONS of languages throughout history, so its vocabulary is HUGE. One of the biggest in the world.

        This brings me to another issue that is specific for video games and that can be REALLY tricky: text space. For example, in movie-like subtitles you can’t never be above 35 characters per line (and two lines). Text boxes have their limit too, and most of the time you can’t change it.

        Words and sentences tend to be much shorter in English than in Spanish (than in EVERY European language, actually), and that can be a real drag. The worst case is German, where words can easily have over 10 characters.

        Well, as you can see, there are tons of factors for video game localization.

        • Joanna

          I definitely agree. I took some German and oh boy, even though supposedly English and German are sister tongues (both come from a single source and are grouped together in the Anglo Saxon language family), German sentence structure is pretty different from English, especially past tense. Translating is definitely not easy. Translators have my respect.

          I’m also fluent in my native tongue (also a European language) and oh boy, I can’t write properly because I employ English sentence structure and it just sounds funny to native speakers like my mom. She laughs at everything that I write….yet to me, it sounds normal. It’s not even me misusing tenses or verbs or gendered articles (I understand those because I speak/understand the language innately), but rather the actual structure of where everything is put. So it’s definitely not an easy thing to do and you really do to have mastered the language you are translating into. Definitely not an easy job.

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