November 18, 2007

Second-guessing your translator

One of the real tricks of subtitling, professional or otherwise, is knowing how much confidence you can have in your translator. How do you know when the translator has perfectly captured a turn of phrase, when they've got the right idea but are missing a good metaphor, when they're stumbling along too literally, or when they're just talking out of their ass? All of this, mind you, in a subject where they are by definition more of an authority than you... except that you're the one that has to deliver a workable script, in a language you probably speak better than them. It's a touchy topic, too, because most translators don't take it well when you tell them "look, you're just plain wrong here" (or worse, "I rewrote half your script because you can't write worth a damn.")

A big part of building that confidence lies in getting the easy stuff correct. My Japanese skills aren't that great, obviously; I'm no translator. But I've done this for long enough to know a few things about the language, and if you get something blatantly wrong that I can spot myself, I'm going to feel a lot better about rewriting around the rest of it too; the chance I'm damaging something that's well-crafted goes down precipitously, while the chance that I'm salvaging what I can from a wreck goes up.

At ADV, of course, I just cheated and had a translator come watch when I was done with a script. Usually, this was Shoko, so no fears about introducing errors after the fact on that score. I learned a great deal in our discussions about why a particular line needed to be changed (or shouldn't have been changed, and that happened too.) While that's definitely the best way to do it, it's rather impractical as a freelancer, so I can't take the easy way out these days.

So what brought this on? Well, working on Nanoha A's, there's a certain amount of German used by the antagonists and their weapons. I know practically no German whatsoever, of course... but that's almost certainly the case for the translator as well, especially if they're working from a script with the German poorly converted into romaji (and listening to it being read by VAs who don't know German either, and even that is assuming that the Japanese writer didn't blow it in the first place, which happens a lot too.)

But "practically no" isn't "no". I do know "Jawohl!" when I hear it. And if I hear it, and that's not what it is in the script I'm looking at, this means I can't really rely on any of the rest of the German being correct, now can I? Which means that I need to track down German speakers who are also Nanoha fans and see how much I can dredge out of it. Ironically, I know a couple of them already, it's just getting the time zones right to let them know I need the back-up...

There's a little part of me that says "this is the kind of detail that nobody cares about, or at least nobody will be paying you to attend to, or even really understand why you care whether it's right or not." This would be the part that got laid off in favor of people who, well, don't worry about this kind of detail. But there you go - if I'm not this picky, who else is going to be?

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at 10:13 PM | Comments (12) | Add Comment
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1 Have you ever had more than one translator to confirm that your script is relatively accurate? That would probably help make sure the one you're working with isn't pulling things out of thin air.

Posted by: grgspunk at November 19, 2007 01:11 AM (POGEh)


GRGSpunk, there are many things like that which could be done if only time and money were available in unlimited quantities. Alas, such lack of constraints only happens in fiction.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 19, 2007 03:01 AM (+rSRq)

3 Back in the day, though, that's precisely what we were doing.

It started with calling Shoko in to help out with bits of script that were untranslated or just completely friggin' incomprehensible. This was a great improvement over calling in Hiroko from the art department. ;p

It didn't take long to notice that there were things that needed fixing, even in the parts of the scripts where we weren't calling her in. ("That next line is wrong too... wow, the whole conversation is wrong.") I got into the habit of borrowing Shoko to watch my final revision pass, no matter which show I was working on. This improved an awful lot of shows, outright saved a couple like Sakura Wars TV, and occasionally caused some embarrassment when we'd catch an error in the subtitles, that same error would not be fixed in the dub, and the fans blamed the director for changing the script when he was actually being faithful to what he had.

Eventually, we reached a point where we realized that we were attempting to fix problems too late - this is about when Neo Ranga came out originally, and god damn, that was a disaster of a translation. We rigged things so that Shoko performed revisions on translations before they were released to anybody else. Translation quality improved dramatically (it helped that this made it quite easy to identify lousy translators and cull them out of the pool.)

But I don't know that it was worth it in the long run. I mean, sure, we did a much better job that way, though it reduced Shoko's own productivity some. In the end, though, when the downturn hit, both of us were laid off anyway, or rather, "first" might even be a better way to describe it. In a way, insisting on high-quality translation also made it hard to work with translators which were, er, not of that quality...

It was very satisfying to do really good work instead of mediocre work, though. Whether it paid the bills or not, well...

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 19, 2007 11:27 AM (LMDdY)

4 I heard a couple of times English spoken differently from subtitles. Now I'm wondering if VAs were ad-libbing or it was some kind of post-translation correction for subtitles, or even a fully intentional discrepancy. I do not remember if I was in ADV or Geneon titles.

Posted by: Author at November 19, 2007 05:30 PM (9imyF)

5 This ... occasionally caused some embarrassment when we'd catch an error in the subtitles, that same error would not be fixed in the dub, and the fans blamed the director for changing the script when he was actually being faithful to what he had.

Heh, I'd never heard that explanation before. I am curious about how much of the translation work was done in-house and how much was contracted out, though. Referring to a pool of translators makes it sound like contract work, but that doesn't jibe with my impression of ADV as a company that does almost everything in-house. Is my impression wrong?

Posted by: Andrew F. at November 19, 2007 09:44 PM (0QkeG)

6 Don't get me wrong, that's not ALWAYS why things get changed for the dub or anything (or even a usual explanation, for that matter.) But there were a few instances where it happened like that, and others where it would have, had we not seen to it that the dub folks got the corrections in time. There's plenty of times where the dialogue was changed because of the demands of dubbing it (i.e. lip flaps totally failed to work, just not possible to say it in English in the time span, yadda yadda.) And others where it was changed for no particular reason; you don't work with Carl Macek and not have that happen. ;p ADV didn't always do all their translation in-house; that started shortly after I arrived there and was a gradual process. Same with subtitling, actually; until we had the Wincaps installations, we had a few regular subtitlers and a whole flotilla of contractors.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 20, 2007 01:36 AM (LMDdY)

7 I heard that the japanese  VA is able to speak like 5 languages......

-Gabe, first post

Posted by: firemage at November 20, 2007 08:48 PM (/gi71)

8 Yeah, well, probably Donna Burke can speak English too, but that didn't stop her from voicing the "Condition Gleen" line of RH's back in S1... ;p

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 21, 2007 12:46 AM (LMDdY)

9 Well every show nowadays have fansubs. Altough they may not be 100% accurate all the time, they usually have the basics right when translating non-japanese

Posted by: Hisoka at November 22, 2007 03:32 PM (y9SRm)

10 You'd be surprised. ;p (For example, there were places where the fansub for Nanoha had the right German where my script didn't; there were other places where neither script had it correct, heh.)

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 22, 2007 10:51 PM (LMDdY)

11 I'm nothing close to fluent in Japanese, but I know enough that when a certain fansub repeatedly translated the exclamation "Kono bakainu!" as "This stupid dog", I could recognize that they weren't quite getting it right.  Kind of like what you say about getting the easy stuff correct being a confidence-booster, and vice-versa.

Posted by: Griffin at November 26, 2007 03:03 PM (es5mS)

12 I've been through some of your pains, sometimes the translators just translate directly from scripts. 

For example. 


I had my translator go . "hmm..., Are we siblings destined to become seaweed?"
After some short googling, Turns out the mokuzu  was a metaphor meaning to die out at sea.

and I hate those Japanese scripts that are not updated when they take away a scene/ add a new scene, or the seiyuu's decide to ad-lib.

My japanese isn't too good either but as u said with experience u can spot the more glaring errors.

My workaround this? Get the translator who translate to watch the video with the japanese script with audio. Get him/her to try to get the signs too. Saves trying to check for signs later.Get him/her to Put up like notes in the translations IE: [ Tlnote : not that sure] so at least you know which parts to lookout for. It saves you lots of time.

thats my 2 cents on this subject

Posted by: shia at December 14, 2007 12:07 AM (HeGm2)

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