Japanese to English Translation

Some time ago, in my mid to late twenties, I decided I wanted to be a translator. I was always surrounded by multiple languages. I was raised by an English speaking mother and a French speaking father. My father usually spoke to me in English when we were alone together, but we often switched to French when around his family. Bilingual families like this are common in northern New Brunswick, Canada.


I also went to a French immersion school. In my first grade of elementary school, all of my classes were in French. Slowly my classmates and I were able to speak and think in French because we were immersed in French all day, every day. By the time I graduated in the twelfth grade, I was often debating, writing essays, doing presentations, and of course reading academic materials in French. I could do all the advanced things cultures do in a language, so I considered my level to be advanced.

After graduating high school, then entering university, I had to take a language credit. Rather than continue French or take a creative writing class in English, I decided to start a whole new language. I was exposed to Japanese through video games and anime. When I realized that most of the games and all of the anime I liked came from Japan, it pulled me towards the language. I thought if I were fluent in Japanese, I would be able to understand my favorite games and anime in their original forms and I'd have access to more content.

After years of Japanese university classes, studying on my own, and living in Japan,  I often felt overwhelmed. It felt like I’d been walking down the road to fluency for so long, then realizing I’d been walking in the wrong direction. I had no idea Japanese could be so difficult. I invested so little in learning French, but just sort of became fluent. Japanese on the other hand … I thought five years of serious hard work would surely be enough. I was more wrong than a man shopping in the bra department. Being a long term learner of Japanese is like jumping into a pool then realizing you're in the middle of an ocean. You have no idea how deep you are until you almost down, then an octopus tries to pull you under by your legs, just before you're harpooned in the spine by Japanese whalers.

I realized I may not be flawless in Japanese, but I’m pretty close to native, and certainly good enough to be a Japanese to English translator. I think I'm better than a lot of the competition I've seen. I think the native English "Japanese to English" translators who can do solo translations are in short supply.

I should've gotten into professional translation earlier. My problem was confidence. I thought I had to be just as good as a native Japanese writer at Japanese, and just as good as an English novelist at writing. Such a level is ideal, but I think there are very few who have this skill set. You just have to be better than the competition.

A good friend, with similar long term goals of translation, introduced me to a Japanese site for freelancers. I’m hoping to do at least one paid project per month, no more pro bono translations. To think I’ve translated agricultural questionnaires, newspaper articles, and manuals pro bono … Some people actually do this as a job. I was doing it for fun! Now I'm hoping to start a translation firm with a few like minded people in the future. It's all talk at the moment. 


Walking Away From JLPT

“Have you ever taken the JLPT?” or “What level are you?” These are common questions when Japanese learners meet for the first time. The JLPT is a convenient way to judge a learner's ability, but how reliable is it? Can a multiple choice test without a speaking component effectively measure someone’s grasp of nihongo?

Despite taking a year to prep specifically for the N1, I felt my Japanese ability deteriorate during these efforts. How ironic is that? I was learning grammar, words, and expressions in my N1 textbooks that I'd never seen nor heard in native Japanese. Not surprisingly, when using these new expressions from textbooks around Japanese people, they often looked confused, saying “We usually don’t say that.” That’s not something you want to hear after you’ve reviewed an awkward expression hundreds of times on Anki.

I thought long and hard about the necessity of an N1 credential. I talked with several friends and coworkers about it. Everyone gave me similar versions of the same advice, “You don’t need it,” or “Don’t bother.” My mind was made up before I asked, but this made me feel better about my decision. I decided to walk away from the JLPT.

Have I given up on Japanese? Not at all. I’m enjoying Japanese literature, movies, TV shows, and video games natively … full of motivation to continue learning. I make a note of the words and expressions I don’t know. Once a week, I add them to an Anki deck. I review the deck in five to ten minute blocks (timeboxing) at least once a day. I feel a huge weight lifted off my shoulders not having to think about the JLPT anymore. Will I take the JLPT N1 again in the future? Probably not.



I've always enjoyed making things with wood. When I was a kid, I used to make swords and shields in my grandfather's basement. He often scolded me because he didn't like me playing with his power tools as a kinder—understandably. Now, I'm going on 31 and building basic furniture like shelves and tables.

I restarted woodworking a few years ago because I wanted customized furniture. It can be quite difficult finding the right piece to fit into a narrow Japanese apartment, not to mention finding something aesthetically suitable within a reasonable price range. I've also noticed the woodworking process to be quite therapeutic. It's relaxing and slows down your mind. I've been increasing my basic tool collection over the last few years. My first major purchase was a Ryobi power drill. My most recent inspiring yet inexpensive addition was a Kreg Jig Mini. So far I've used it for raised garden beds, reinforcing sliding drawers, joining boards together (flat and 90ยบ angles), etc.

My next project will be more technical and require a few more tools. I'm going to make a simple farmhouse table, so I'll need an orbit sander to even and smooth the surfaces. I'm going to keep the wood's natural color and finish it with polyurethane. I'm thinking of making something like this.

There's something appealing to me about using your own handmade furniture in a home. Even if your plan is the same as another, your piece will always look original and have its own character. This adds to the atmosphere of your interior, and your pieces are great conversation topics when you have company.


Japanese JLPT N1 Revisited

2013 First Try

I took the JLPT N1 for the first time in the summer of 2013. I hadn't prepared much for it. A few weeks before the test I bought an N1 prep textbook … I started using it a few days before the test. Though I studied vocabulary with Anki and read Japanese material regularly, I often struggled with newspaper articles or longer specific materials.

On the practice test included with the prep guide, I scored poorly on the general knowledge and reading parts (under 50%), but quite high on the listening part (over 90%). N1 grammar was really hard for me. Despite reading in Japanese every day, watching a lot of Japanese TV, and interacting with a variety of Japanese people on daily basis—there were  so many grammatical forms I had never seen before. Ironically, asking Japanese people for help with these structures was often fruitless. Some Japanese people had trouble with these structures. Luckily, I felt the listening part was too easy. It didn't match the difficulty of the rest of the test. I wasn't expecting to pass the real test, but I wanted to test the waters.

I was assigned to take N1 at Seijoh University in Aichi, a university at the top of a mountain with no place to buy food or snacks in sight, so bring something light to snack on or something to drink for halftime. I was in a room with about 60 heads. Fifty of those heads looked and sounded Han Chinese. The rest was a mix of Middle Eastern women, South East Asian, and one British-looking guy.

My feeling after the real test was the same after the practice test. "I think I did poorly on the general knowledge and reading, but I'm pretty sure I aced the listening." I was confident about all of my answers except for one on the listening. I didn't think my high listening score expectations would compensate for my poorly done first half though. A pass would be possible, but I was expecting a fail.

The results, however, were the opposite of what I expected. I did reasonably better than I expected on the first half, and much worse than I expected on the second half. What's up with that? Did I fill in the answers in the wrong place? Most likely no, because I'm OCD careful, especially with things like this. Still to this present day, I wonder what happened. I failed the test but didn't even flinch after my results of failure. I was ready to try again.

2014 Second Try

I started prepping for my second try not long after my first try. I felt my biggest weekest was N1 grammar so I started looking for help online. My most used resource was Nihongonomori.com. I put all of their N1 grammar video points into an Anki grammar deck. I reviewed this until I mastered it. My next step was to buy an N1 vocabulary book and to add all of its content into an Anki vocabulary deck. In addition, I also read a lot of online material and saved all of the words I didn't understand into my vocabulary deck. I tried to review this deck as much as possible. It will be a forever ongoing process. Though I continued to read a lot in Japanese as usual, I decided to get a reading comprehension textbook, specifically for the JLPT N1. I used this to get used to the format of the reading section. After about one year of prep, this time I felt a lot more prepared for the test.

Like before, I was assigned to take the test at Seijoh University. I was happy I wouldn't have to worry about finding an unfamiliar location, but disappointed because it's troublesome to get there and there are no local amenities. The journey was worth it though. I took the N1 in a room filled with girls that could have all been models. The majority were from China and South Korea, but there were also beauties from India, the Middle East, and South East Asia as well. Before the test began, I couldn't help but look around. I had never been in a room with such a high ratio of beautiful women. Maybe they were in Japan on a modeling visa? On to the test….

The JLPT organization has been upgrading its security procedures recently. Not only are we told not to bring food or drinks to the test site, but this time, examinees were required to roll up their sleeves and show their arms. Were you expecting us to write 5,000 vocabulary entries onto our forearms? And if there's a clock in the room, why do you cover it up with a sheet of paper? The examinees who didn't bring a watch had to ask the examiners directly if they wanted to know the time. Don't cover up the clock! I understand trying to prevent cheating, but is this really going to help? Also, we had to put our mobile phones in an envelope then put that on the desk. If it rings or vibrates during the test, you get a red card and you're out!

My biggest problem this time was not the actual test though. I was fighting a different battle. The day before the test (and the day of), I had considerably less calories than usual. Not for any reason in particular, but just due to circumstance. The morning of the test, I had a regular breakfast, i.e., bacon and eggs with leafy vegetables on the side. For lunch though, at the test site with no amenities, I decided just to wing it and not eat anything. I was performing normally for the first half, but when I got to the end of the second half, I lost my ability to concentrate. The last two listening questions were noise to me. I didn't want to hear the dialogs. I found myself thinking about why the wedding reception I attended last night didn't have much food. I was planning to pig out, but these mini dishes of pastas and salads were not what I wanted. Ding! Select the correct answer a), b), c), or d). I didn't even hear the question! Let this be a lesson to you. Make sure you have some brain food with you for halftime. Don't bring anything too heavy though. You don't want your body putting all its energy into digestion when you're trying to take a listening test.

2014 Final Thoughts

Despite very little of the grammar I studied so hard was not on the test, nor were the thousands of Anki vocabulary cards I reviewed, the general knowledge part went well. I'm thinking I got at least 50% but no more than 70%. The reading part caused me a little trouble because I didn't manage my time well. For one of the longer passages, I just chose the four answers I thought fitted best, without actually reading the passage. The last two questions (about a credit card application?), I just chose the answers without even looking at the questions. The examiners told us to stop as I just started reading this part. However, I was focused and felt confident about the rest of the reading section. I predict (hope for) a 50–70% on the reading part. The listening part felt easy for me, except for the last part due to my loss of concentration. I've always felt in comparison to the general knowledge and especially the reading, that the listening part is generously easy. A few other people have told me the same. I'm expecting at least 70% for the listening. Though who knows what'll happen. Last time my predictions were terribly off. We'll see at the end of August. I'm happy that I can just read, enjoy, and learn Japanese naturally now without having to think of the JLPT.


Guys Learning Japanese Podcast

Nick and I started working together about six months ago. Soon after meeting, we both noticed one of the ways we relate is our devotion and commitment to learning Japanese. Since we’re both students of the language and often talk about our study experience, we thought it may be useful to make a podcast of our guided conversations. The Guys Learning Japanese podcast is available via RSSiTunes, and YouTube. Search results should appear directly in your iOS Podcast app if you search GLJ.

We’re planning to do at least ten episodes on various topics. So far we’ve talked about study tools, motivation, leveling up, kanji, frustration, etc. In the future we hope to be doing Q&A, i.e., answering the questions that listeners send to us here, and answering them on the show.

This podcast may be useful for you if you’re a beginner, but it’ll probably be more entertaining if you’re intermediate or advanced. We will not be teaching you how to introduce yourself in Japanese, nor how to order in a restaurant. This podcast is literally two guys talking about learning Japanese. If you’re learning Japanese, think of it as a conversation that you may benefit from overhearing. Listen to the podcast while you’re folding your laundry, commuting, or doing something that permits multitasking. The same episodes are also available on YouTube, so you can play them as background noise while you’re browsing the web.

Subscribe, like, rate, and share. Email us your questions at gljpodcast@gmail.com.