The Joys of Translation

I watched this video this morning and it really spoke to me. This girl is awesome, she’s a Dutch girl who reviews books and has studied translation, and she loves translation as much as I do. You should check her out. I am very lucky in that I have a frickin’ awesome job translating really amazing things that I feel passionate about – and what’s more I can be creative. I thought that I’d write a little bit about what it’s like to be a translator.

So people quite often say to me “you’re a translator! I guess your job will be taken over by computers in the near future!”

…Yeah, because we all know how great google translate is, right?

Translation of things that are creative – literature, poems, songs, video games – need a real human brain. One that has a very deep understanding of both the original culture and the target culture.

For example – when I was in a film subtitle workshop last year we had to write a translation for a Japanese movie clip where a woman was on a date with a guy. They are both Japanese. The guy has his hair bleached blond. She says “oh wow, I’ve never been on a date with someone who has dyed their hair before”.

What would you translate that as? Exactly as it stands, with the blonde hair? People who know Japanese culture well will know that dying your hair in Japan is not just dying your hair. It’s a sign that you are a rebel – that you don’t give a flying monkey about society and its rules. Being on a date with a guy like this could end up with you lying in a ditch covered in your own blood. THIS is what she’s really saying. But how do you say that, in English words, to people who might not understand Japanese culture?

There are very different approaches when it comes to creative translation. Some people like to fit every. single. detail. of the original in their translation. Some people (I fall more into this category) look at the original, take its meaning and then create new text. Depending on what you’re doing, who the author is and who your target audience is, you may need to switch between the two.

One extra challenge we have in video game translation is that you need to fit your translations into the limitations. So, for example, you are in the desert and a talking camel gives you some water. This water needs a special, catchy name and it needs to be no longer than 10 letters long.

I came to my job having never properly translated anything beyond homework at uni. I’ve learnt everything I know about it from failing and trying again. One thing as a translator that you need to have is the ability to have your work ripped apart right in front of you. When you write something creative, you often put your heart and soul into it – that genius pun you made, that cultural insight you put in – and then someone validates you and just doesn’t get it and changes it. The truth is that language and culture are different from person to person, even when you’re from the same place. What you consider to be the way to phrase something might not be the most natural thing to the next person. And we have to accept that, because at the end of the day we want as many people as possible to enjoy the thing that we’re translating. It’s better to have a more normal sentence which everyone thinks is mildly amusing than to have a really obscure reference to something hilarious that only 1 in 10 people would get.

But the downside to being a translator is that you become critical about loads of things. Subtitles in movies. The way people use your native language in media. I went to the cinema last night and I had to keep pointing out all the plot holes, and where the scene was cut too late and it was just awkward and ugly.

I understand that I’m lucky to be in the job that I have, so if anyone would like to ask any *translation* (read: NOT Nintendo…) questions then I’d love to answer them! Fire away!

Commute-Time Talking


The thing about me is that I like to utilise every waking moment of my life – and this is very true of the time I spend on public transport. Usually in the morning I do one of three things: read, listen to podcasts or listen to SUPER HIGH ENERGY MUSIC that will get me in the mood for work. What I don’t like to do is talk.

This concept comes easily to British people. We just assume that this is natural and that we won’t be bothered. I have a lovely British friend who I sometimes see on my commute to work. I think he is one of the most amazing people I know and I very much enjoy talking to him. BUT the morning commute is NOT for talking and so he and I will know of each other’s presence and then move to different carriages.

The same cannot be said of a non-British colleague of mine. He’s a very nice, energetic guy. The friendliest you ever did see. Especially in the mornings.

This morning, I was on the bus that delivers fat, lazy people who can’t be bothered to walk from the train station to our office. I was reading quite an interesting article about Pharrell Williams (and wondering why no one was shouting at him for co-writing Blurred Lines…) when out of nowhere, up popped my colleague.

He placed himself next to me and started hopping from foot to foot, sighing. It was a sign that I should stop reading and pay him attention.

I didn’t.

The sighing got louder, when he let out a “wow, there sure are loads of people on here today!”

I looked up, grunted.

His head popped up at my shoulder. “Whatcha readin’?!”

“A magazine.”

“Oh! I like to read books”


As I got off the bus I felt him walk in step with me. I can’t walk and read at the same time but DAMMIT I wanted my quiet time. So I held the magazine in front of my face and walked. After an awkward amount of time of me pretending to read while walking, while trying not to trip up at the same time, he found someone else to talk to and I didn’t have to be rude to him any more.

Am I a terrible person, or just British…?

From Start To Finish.

While I was waiting for Mr in town on Saturday, I noticed that the game shop had Mario Party 9 in the window. I went to investigate and found a bunch of kids playing it.

Now, here’s a warning – I get emotional at everything. EV.ER.Y.THING. And this was no different. I was tearing up, thinking “omg, they are enjoying the thing we worked so hard on” when the game shop guy turned to me and asked if I wanted to play. YES!

So I spent quite a large amount of time beating the kids at the game. The game shop guy told me that they get the games 2 weeks in advance so they can play them and get used to them, so he was pretty good at the games too. The two kids playing against us were just left behind as we fought with each other to win each mini-game. Sadly, I think in the end, he won. But it sure was fun.

It just amazing to see kids run into the shop and tug at the guy’s shirt saying “oh wow! Is this Mario Party 9!!?” like they had been waiting for it this whole time. I’m so glad I can be in a job that’s so rewarding that I can instantly see that people enjoy the things I help create, and it makes me work all the harder to make sure they keep coming back.

Ok, I’ll probably shut up about this now, haha.

My Game Was Released!!

Exciting times, because the game I worked on came out!! My first project was Skyward Sword but since I was new and knew little, and because I joined half way through the project, it was cool but not so special. I was the main UK translator on Mario Party 9, so it’s very special to me. The project was the making of me and helped me grow and learn in so many different ways.

So if you are in the UK or Ireland, and you see that game, take a good look at it, because it’s my baby!

The Nintendo Life

It was my dear friend’s birthday yesterday, so I took him to dinner. He also works at Nintendo. As we ate we sighed and wondered why there is such a thing as the Nintendo Bubble; why is it that people who work with us rarely have lives, friends, love outside the people we work with.

When I first joined the company (only 6 months ago now) I was determined to make local friends, German friends, people to hang out with outside of work. It was at my birthday party in October that I looked around the table of 20 or so people who had gathered to celebrate with me that I realised that I should stop trying so hard and accept that I love the people around me.

The people who work at Nintendo are COOL. Like, properly cool. There are so many amazing people with so many different life experiences and skills that it’s hard not to be in awe there. One of the most amazing things is how many people can not only speak their native European language, not only English fluently (so much so they can spot mistakes in my English in an instant!) but also speak Japanese as well. How I’d love to have 3 or more languages…

Another reason why it’s just easier to have in-house friends is that it does pretty much take over your life, even when it’s not a challenging project. The current project I am on, despite  not being involved enough for me to feel the stressful parts, is controlling me so much that I am dreaming about it, and thinking about it and the contents as I am walking down the street. When we have get-togethers the boys usually talk nothing but video games, so much so that I feel so sorry for the few non-Nintendo wives who have to put up with all the boring shop talk haha.

And then, it’s good to be close to people and be able to talk openly with people who know what kind of troubles you are going through. The current project is very different to my previous two and I’m finding more than before that I have to work harder to bridge the gap between my co-workers who have years of experience and myself. Being able to talk about this over Sunday brunch with people who have been there is so nice. We are unable to talk about most things to do with work as, of course, we work with so much delicate information, so I can’t just phone up my mum and tell her all about it. 

There are about 400 people working at our office in Frankfurt. Within those people I only interact with very very few people, but everyone is so nice and friendly even if we don’t know each other by name. It’s like a secret club we have going on, where we know all the secrets and have secret handshakes and all that. I’m sure I could never get bored of the Nintendo family.

So I don’t mind being in the Nintendo bubble at all. It’s a pretty cool bubble to be in.

Online Music

Last week, the people in our office thought the world had come to an end. We didn’t know how we could go on, how we would be able to function in our daily lives with our loss. The German fun policing agency, GEMA, had stopped Grooveshark, the online music service. It was wonderful, you could (well, still can if you are outside Germany) listen to any music you like, for free, with no adverts cutting up your music. There were visual adverts on the page, but otherwise it was bother free, and completely legal.

It didn’t take long before the crying and slow rocking of my colleagues was unbearable and so I set about trying to find an alternative. Grooveshark itself mentioned  So I went over to take a look.

Music-wise, it’s pretty good. It’s quite useless for Asian music but for Western stuff it’s pretty on the ball. There are some random artists and a small chart on the front page but it would be nice if there were more options to find artists if you don’t know quite what you want to listen to. But it’s quite good at recommending artists similar to ones you like, which is pretty nice.

The player it quite easy to use, and it’s easy to go round and make playlists. The player hides itself into the bottom of the page when not in use.

The part I like best is the radio feature. While Grooveshark itself was awesome, the radio on there was terrible. No matter what artist I chose, it seemed to want to plug the same random Russian pop to me, or it just didn’t remember that just because I was listening to j-pop, it didn’t mean that I wanted to listen to Berryz. No one ever wants to listen to Berryz. But on Simfy, I’ve not been disappointed yet. The only problem would be that it seems that as opposed to linking all songs and artists to the initial one you started the radio with, it links to the previous song (ie – above I started with Regina Spektor. They linked me to Vampire Weened, which is linked to Laura Marling, in linear links.) While not such a big problem, the other night when we had the radio on for a long time, it went on a tangent so big that we were laughing at the kinds of music it was bringing up.

I have joined the premium service so I can have Simfy on my iPhone too. It’s pretty good, but of course isn’t so kind on the battery. The basic service is good enough though and it’s a good replacement in our hearts for Grooveshark. Let’s hope GEMA doesn’t get its greasy hands on this one too.