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Tips for English Translators

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Post #777143

6:05 am, May 21 2020
Posts: 99

Hi! I've noticed just a few odd things in translation and just thought I'd provide a few tips that might help:

People sharing a home who AREN'T in a romantic relationship= roommates/rooming together
People sharing a home who ARE in a romantic relationship= lovers/living together

Living together/cohabitating/rooming: I often see stories in which gay couples are described as "cohabitating" when the story is trying to avoid the idea that they're together romantically in the beginning. However, at least in American English, the word "cohabitating" is almost NEVER used. Instead, for those who live together, but aren't romantic, we typically say they're roommates; they ROOM together. Whether they share a dorm room or a whole house, the description still applies. But, it is true that Americans often use "living together" to mean a pair romantically sharing a home.

Suki= like, even in romantic relationships.
Daisuki = I like you a lot
Aishiteru= love
As long as the author makes a point of using these words, most American readers will understand the importance of their difference.

Like vs. love: Some might be surprised to learn that American culture also shares the concept of not saying "I love you" to a romantic partner easily. A number of dramas actually use this as a plot point. I'm guessing some other cultures may have thought Americans express their love easily because many of us are not shy about saying that we love things or friends. However, in romantic relationships, many American couples still go through the process of saying "like" until they become intimate/serious enough to say "love."

Fujoshi is a female who enjoys BL (boys' love) MEDIA.

Defining "fujoshi": Fujoshi is a female who enjoys BL (boys' love) media. Fujoshi is NOT necessarily a female who enjoys gay romance between men. The reason we should make this difference clear is because there are fujoshi who find male romantic relationships acceptable in fiction, but not in real life. This is important because it reflects Japanese culture (and other Asian cultures who've adopted the term or something similar) and the ongoing struggles of their LGBTQ+ communities for acceptance despite the popularity of gay depictions in media ๐Ÿ™

Use the terms "family name" and "given name" instead of "first" and "last" names for clarity. Almost NEVER use the word "surname" in what's supposed to be casual conversation.

First name, second name, last name, surname?? Because many Asian cultures place what most Westerners consider the "last" name before the "first" name, it can be confusing how to refer to these names when talking about them. For the most part, I stick with the terms "family name" and "given name." These phrases are still pretty familiar to most Americans and are easy to look up otherwise. Also, they reflect their function even in Asian culture: The family name is the name that identifies what family you're from; the given name is the name given to you to tell you apart from your family.

Also, I occasionally see statements like, "It's that kid surnamed Gu." Don't do this. The word "surname" is typically only used in official forms and circumstances in American English. However, Americans do refer to each other by just their family names at times. For instance, the sentence above could be translated as, "It's that Gu kid," and most readers wouldn't find it strange as long as the kid with the family name of Gu had been introduced.

Examples (incorrect -----> correct):
"It seems surnamed Zhou really treasures..." -----> "It seems Zhou really treasures..."
"Both sides are surnamed Gu, but the difference..." -----> "Both sides have the family name Gu, but the difference..."
"...two designated nursemaids, surnamed Wang and Song..." -----> "...two designated nursemaids, Wang and Song..."

So, frequently, the answer is just to remove the word "surnamed."

Brake= a mechanism that stops a vehicle
To brake= to slow or halt
To break= to snap, destroy, crush, mangle, etc.

Brake vs. break: A "brake" is a mechanism to slow a vehicle. "To brake" means to slow or stop. "To break" means to snap, crush, destroy, mangle, etc. "Break" is also rarely a noun. The way I remember this is by using the 'e' in each word. The 'e' acts as a brake. In the word "brake," the 'e' stops and completes the word, right? But, in the word "break," if the 'e' stops the word, it BREAKS the word (bre ๐Ÿ˜ฎ ak).

When deciding whether the right word is "bear" or "bare, if you can use the word to describe a bear, use the spelling that matches the animal. If you CAN'T, use "bare." ๐Ÿ˜‰

Bare vs. bear: "To bare" means to expose, reveal, etc. because "bare" means "to be naked, uncovered." "To bear" means to endure, survive, withstand, or carry. The way I always remember it is by thinking of the actual animal, the bear: Most bears aren't naked ๐Ÿคฃ , BUT they are known to endure harsh climates and carry things like fish or logs.

Hopefully these few tips will be of some kind of help to someone! And, thank you to all the translators out there! It's hard work, but so many, MANY of us appreciate it!

Bonus tip:
Translator's notes should add to the story for the reader. It feels weird to say this, but I've come across enough examples lately to feel the need for it: Translator's notes (often abbreviated t/n) shouldn't repeat the story, spoil the story, or interpret the story for the reader. Translator's notes are usually used when it's difficult to TRANSLATE a word or concept from another culture, like Japanese honorifics or the relationships of the Chinese zodiac, etc. These notes shouldn't repeat exactly what's just happened in the story, spoil story details that have yet to be revealed to the reader (no, this does not count as clarification), or tell the reader how to understand the story. Here are some examples:

"T/n: 'Mama' is the title used to address a female/femme bar owner or manager in Japan." GOOD ๐Ÿ™‚

"T/n: Saitou calls the woman Mama Kaoru." ๐Ÿ˜ Most likely, readers have just read this, and this doesn't tell them that Kaoru is NOT Saitou's actual mother.

"T/n: Mama Kaoru is the owner of the bar and also Saitou's mother, but he doesn't know that yet." ๐Ÿ˜ณ Yes, this happens. I've seen translators' notes that are literally spoilers. If the story hasn't said it yet, DON'T SAY IT, pls!

"T/n: Saitou calls Kaoru 'mama' because he has deep respect for her." This might be true, but this is not a translation of the author's words; it's how the translator feels about the story. In some cases, readers are affected by these notes and end up misinterpreting other events in the story because they've read the translator's note as canon rather than as an opinion. So, it's ok to have commentary in translator's notes (because we know translators have their fan moments as much as we do), but try to make them look different or keep them separate from notes that are meant to explain cultural concepts.

Keep measurements consistent. For as much as Americans are teased about not using the metric system, we are at least consistent in the system we do use. (There is an exception, but only when writing scientific papers, which would ideally be read by international scientists.) But, we do understand that other parts of the world use the metric system; SO, when translating, either convert to imperial units or stick to metric. DO NOT MIX (this is a UK English thing, and I'm absolutely floored they do not get more grief for that insanity ๐Ÿคฃ ).

Last edited by Carmella at 12:49 am, Mar 30

Post #777237

9:20 am, May 25 2020
Posts: 99

Additional notes:


-Junior highs and private schools exist in the US and North America in general. So, the idea that a high school might only contain grades 10-12 is NOT actually a foreign concept. However, this means that labeling students "freshman" through "senior" is difficult. The EASIEST solution is to simply retain the year-numbering system, i.e. "first-year," "second-year," etc. Most readers will get it in time or assume the education system is unique to the place (see Harry Potter).

-But, what about "middle school third-years"? You've just answered the question.

-Genkan, hyeon gwan:
The English equivalent is foyer; it's the room/space immediately inside the door where guests are received.

I think the only reason there was any confusion regarding this translation is because some American homes do not have a distinct foyer.

-Alternates for "retard" (because, no, you do not have to use this word unless the subject of the story actually refers to mental handicap):


-Alternates for "save face/give face/face" (the most famous example in American English that I can think of for this phrase is from Madonna's "Vogue" when she's referring to a 1930's actress; so, yeah, the phrase is a little old-fashioned):


Not exactly sure what exactly popularized this particular translation, but a few more common words are:

Noun- ("We couldn't break free of their..." )
gang (loosely)

Adjective- ("We were..." )

Last edited by Carmella at 8:10 am, Jun 29

Post #777867

2:36 pm, Jun 16 2020
Posts: 99

This isn't a tip so much as a very strong recommendation:
Translate titles accurately. Do not use common sayings just because they're popular.

This doesn't mean that you have to translate a title word for word exactly; it's fine to use a phrase that better reflects the title's meaning if the original phrasing isn't clear. But, if you do use a popular reference, please understand what the reference means! Do not assume!

For example, Fullmetal Alchemist actually translates into "Alchemist of Steel." In Japanese culture, due to history and various media, steel is also understood as a pure (or nearly pure) metal; so, "Fullmetal Alchemist" could've also been translated as "Pure Metal Alchemist." BUT, there was a popular English movie called Full Metal Jacket about soldiers and their vulnerabilities--"full metal" refers to a bullet with a soft core and a hard outer casing--and the translation team made the connection between the word play and similar themes, resulting in the title Fullmetal Alchemist. Not to mention, the hero of FMA manipulates more than just steel, so the choice reflected that as well.

A KEY point here is that the team did not just localize the title as Full Metal Jacket. Clearly, a LOT of thought was put into the choice, which has absolutely contributed to the title's success across cultures. In both languages, the title is unique, but slightly familiar. This is a good example of how to apply common sayings to a title. However, considering the lengthy explanation above, it's clearly not an easy thing to do.

In fact, what I'm seeing a LOT of lately are translators slapping common sayings or familiar phrases on titles with little thought. I've seen a lot of "translated" titles that are just the titles of English songs or movies, unaltered. And, the stories might have something in common with the original English works, but I've gotten the strong impression from a number of them that this isn't case.

The WORST example I came across was an LGBT+ work that the translator chose to title "Stranger Fruit." For one, the association of fruit/fruitiness with homosexuality is mostly a western concept; so, it was highly unlikely that this was the original title of the work translated word for word. But, more importantly, the title is based off the phrase "strange fruit." The song that popularized this phrase is about hanging black people. The lyrics are a graphic reflection of a very GRIM reality, and the "strange fruit" in the song refers to corpses in trees. As you might imagine, this is NOT what a foreign author necessarily wants English readers to associate with their fluffy romance. The work was quickly taken down and the title changed, obviously.

So, again, if you choose to use a common phrase or refer to a popular movie or song, please, PLEASE, understand where the phrase comes from or what the movie or song is about.

Post #779423

10:05 am, Aug 13 2020
Posts: 99

Back again with a tip I didn't think needed to be put into words, but here we are:


When translating chants, sutras, hymns, etc. from various religions, please look up their translations (many have them due to the international spread of religion), translate them phonetically (the monk in Ghost Hunt performing the kuji-in is a good example), or don't translate them and simply leave a translator's note.

"Abracadabra" is associated with non-religious magic and tricks in American English. In some instances, it's even understood as a phrase used when performing fake magic in an attempt to scam an audience. So, if you translate a religious chant this way, American readers will either find it weird or read it as the character trying to fake their way through the chant. Let's look at the scenario that inspired this tip:

-Character A is pretending to perform an exorcism and uses the phrase "abracadabra." It's still a little weird to see in a religious ritual, but it tells the reader that Character A is faking.
-However, when character B is later healed by the chant of a traditional healer, the phrase used is ALSO "abracadabra."
-So, there are two possibilities here:

1) At our most optimistic, the reader is led to believe that, in this fictional universe, "abracadabra" is a respected chant of a religion. This can work if the universe is based in a high fantasy or magic school sort of setting. However, for this example, the story's based in China, and the exorcist and healer practice Chinese religions and traditional medicine.

So, that's when we end up with result 2) a respected religious chant has been translated as the equivalent of fake magic and tricks. It would be like translating the "Our Father" prayer as "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." I mean, as a prayer, it COULD work; but, imagine how many readers would be offended to see a PRIEST reciting this as a blessing? ๐Ÿ˜•

Translations are often the first place people start learning about a new culture, and they also allow cultures to share and celebrate their traditions. So, please, approach the cultures you're working with respectfully! Thank you!

Last edited by Carmella at 10:15 am, Aug 13

Post #779434 - Reply to (#779423) by Carmella
user avatar

8:35 pm, Aug 13 2020
Posts: 1012

You do realize your entire post could be boiled down to stating, "JUST TRANSLATE THE FUCKING THING! Word for word, nothing more, nothing less. That's what we want, that's what we expect. If you cannot translate something (Or the translations sounds stilted), don't do it and leave an explanation as to why."

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Post #780180

3:01 am, Sep 12 2020
Posts: 99

Quick tips:

-There's an easy way to remember how to spell "weird." If you know the rule "i before e, except after c" ("brief" and "receive" are good examples), then the easy way to remember how to spell "weird" is to think of it as weirdโ€”it doesn't fit the "i before e" rule!

-There's often confusion about where the 'h' in "whoa" goes. It helps to say the word aloud because "whoa" shares the same vowel sound as "coat" and "boat". "Woah," on the other hand, can end up reading like "wo-ah" and rhyming with "boa" (as in the snake).

-Describing the "senpai"/"kouhai" or "sunbae"/"hubae" relationship, many translators use the literal translation of "senior" and "junior". In a work environment, this is fine; however, in a school environment, English actually has similar terms: "upperclassman" and "underclassman". You definitely don't have to use these words, but they can make some sentences less clunky, such as "He's an upperclassman from my school."

-"ํ™”์ดํŒ…" or "ใตใใ„0ใจ" = "Fight!" or "Fight on!" in American English. Translating these words literally as "fighting" or "fight-o" can result in some confusion or awkwardness otherwise.

-If it's not at a theme park, and it's a vehicle, use "get IN to" and "get OUT of". Many translations confuse "in" and "on" and "out" and "off" when talking about vehicles. In American English, people get IN to a vehicle and then get OUT of the vehicle. Replacing these words with "on" and "off" can mean EXTREMELY different things. For example:

"She got IN the car" means she entered the car.
"She got ON the car" means she climbed onto the car's roof or hood. This lady is not inside the vehicle ๐Ÿ˜›.

"He got OUT of the van" means he exited the van.
"He got OFF the van" means that he was on the van's roof or hood, like above.
"He got OFF FROM the van" means... In American English, this means the gentleman had a sexual climax from looking at the van ๐Ÿคฃ .

These things do happen, but that definitely tells a different story; so, this is why it's important to use the correct word ๐Ÿ˜ƒ. The exception is when talking about theme park rides, where "on" and "off" are indeed correct. For example, "She got on the roller coaster," or "He got off the ferris wheel."

-"Who" vs. "Whom"? A simple test can help you tell when to use "who" or "whom". When answering the question, you should be able to replace "who" with "he" and the sentence still make sense; and, for "whom", you should be able to use "him". Let's demonstrate:

"Who would like some chocolate?"
"He would like some chocolate." (makes sense, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰)
"Him would like some chocolate." (that doesn't sound quite right, does it? ๐Ÿ˜•)
"To whom did you give the key?"
"I gave the key to him." (that sounds right ๐Ÿ™‚)
"I gave the key to he." (nope ๐Ÿ˜• )

(I usually remember this rule because "whom" and "him" both end in 'm' )

-"And I" vs. "And me"? If you're not sure if the phrase should be "and me" or "and I", an easy way to tell is that you should be able to remove the other person and the 'and' and the sentence still make sense. For example:

Lara and me are going to lunch - "Lara and" = Me is going to lunch. (cute, but not right)
Lara and I are going to lunch - "Lara and" = I am going to lunch. (there we go ๐Ÿ˜€ )
He gave the books to Ryu and I - "Ryu and" = He gave the books to I. (fancy, but no)
He gave the books to Ryu and me - "Ryu and" = He gave the books to me. (yep!)

Last edited by Carmella at 5:34 am, Nov 24

Post #787943

1:14 pm, Jan 3 2021
Posts: 25

This is because of the culture differences. It might seem a normal Western thing but in Japan it is even sometimes considered as taboo. Well, also thanks for clearing this out. Obviously there are a lot of people who are mistaking this for that. Really amazing right? Did not realize that the community got this big.

Post #787970
user avatar
gbf player

4:30 pm, Jan 4 2021
Posts: 22

These are half translation tips and half english semantics/grammar tips, which obviously don't only apply to manga...

Some are, some aren't.

ive got a disease called having a big brain and excellent taste
Post #788495 - Reply to (#787970) by rokyun_

7:38 pm, Jan 31 2021
Posts: 99

Quote from rokyun_
These are half translation tips and half english semantics/grammar tips, which obviously don't only apply to manga...

Some are, some aren't.

If you find these tips useful outside of manga and novel translations, then that's super awesome! Thank you for the compliment ๐Ÿ˜€

Post #789550

12:50 am, Mar 30 2021
Posts: 99

Added another bonus tip to top post

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