A lot of aspiring translators email me and ask me, “How did you get your start in translation?” or “How did you get your first translation job?”
It’s a smart question to ask. I’m sure they’re hoping the answer will give them a hint for getting their own start as translators, and with someone else, that might be true. But I’m afraid that my answer is just about the least useful one you’ll ever hear!
Nonetheless, to satisfy this curiosity if nothing else, I give you…
The Tale of the Accidental Translator
I never set out to be a translator.
Don’t get me wrong; I knew I loved to translate. I discovered that my freshman year of college. I was about to spend one of the breaks on campus while the majority of the other students scattered, and a friend suggested I occupy myself by translating a Japanese fan comic (doujinshi) she’d bought. With nothing else I particularly felt like doing, I gave it a shot. I remember sitting in the window seat of my dorm room, getting out my dictionary and notebook… and then I don’t remember much of anything else about the next few days. It’s all a blur until I blinked to find myself surrounded by pages of scribbled English translation, the same friend shaking me out of The Zone and asking what had happened to me.
That was my first-ever translation, and I was hooked. By graduation, it was common knowledge among my friends that I enjoyed it, although it never occurred to me that I could go on to make my living as a translator.
The great thing about having friends, especially Mawrter friends, is that they often know better than you do. And so in 2003 while I was working at a Borders Books & Music and trying to think what to do with my life, two different friends (as I recall) sent me an ad clipped from the now-defunct Newtype USA magazine. A Houston anime company called ADV was looking for freelance translators. “I think you should apply,” said the note accompanying the clipping.
Sure, why not, I thought. I responded to the ad, took their translation test, and was offered my first-ever translation project, a little-known anime called Aquarian Age. The soundtrack was great, I loved translating anyway, and someone was paying me to do it! Since my cheap “I just graduated” home didn’t even have internet at the time, I got by on the charity of friends with internet connections, translating anime offline after work and then visiting their homes or the library to look up anything I needed to research. I had the amazing good fortune to be mentored during the course of the project, and with my mentor’s support I suppose I did all right, since immediately after I finished it I got offered the 49-episode series GetBackers (now an oldie, but definitely a goodie).
Eventually I was making enough money to scale back from full-time to part-time at the bookstore, and after a year and a passing mention that I’d be interested in full-time translation work, I got offered a full-time position at ADV. So I packed my bags, and career-wise I’ve never looked back.
A dozen years later, I have no doubt that translation is my true calling.