Megan Waters

Hall of fame: Charles

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A Chinese-American who moved overseas to study Japanese, Charles has been a Japanese to English translator for five years. He believes cultural awareness is a prerequisite before learning professional translation tools, and advises translators to focus on constantly improving their language skills, too.

What languages do you speak and what are your experiences with learning them?

I speak Chinese, Japanese and English. Although my family is Chinese, I was born in the U.S. so I grew up being exposed to English. As a rebellious teenager, I never wanted to learn Chinese so instead I studied Japanese at university. I had always wanted to visit Japan and studying abroad seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I’ve always had a non-traditional stance on learning, and find learning languages better through immersion than classes—I improved my Japanese more during the four months I lived in Japan than I did in university for two years! I’ve been translating for almost five years now with no signs of slowing down. Recently, I’ve rekindled my interest in learning Chinese, too. Perhaps, in the future, I’ll be able to join Gengo as a Chinese translator!

What are your favorite translation tools?

I don’t use any professional translation tools, but I’ve been using for years is just Google Docs and the Rikaikun add-on for Google Chrome. The add-on enables quick dictionary searches for Japanese words, and Google Docs is easily accessible online. When I need to do research, I just use Google search.

I’m also trying to pursue translation full time, so I’m open to learning new tools. However, I still believe what’s important for translators are not the tools, but a better grasp of the language, culture and different contexts.

What are your tips to become a Wordsmith?

  • Don’t strive too hard for achievements or recognition. Instead, just focus on improving your translation and language skills and the rest will follow. I didn’t expect working with Gengo to become a regular gig because it only started as a hobby, but now I’ve been translating while traveling around the world.
  • Learn about culture. There’s only so much you can learn from dictionary translations. With Japanese, for instance, the text can be interpreted differently, but if you understand the country of your source language, your translations would feel more natural and your clients will love them, too.
  • Set a schedule. As a freelance translator, it’s sometimes difficult to find the motivation to sit down and work. Set a time every day for translations and when it becomes a habit, everything gets much easier.
  • Read and learn from other people’s translations. It’s hard to improve as a translator without getting professional feedback. One great exercise is to translate a text on your own and then compare it to that of a professional. What could you have done better? This kind of daily practice can help you improve over time.

Want to become a Gengo translator?

Megan Waters
Megan Waters
Megan manages all things translator-related as Gengo’s Community and Digital Content Manager. Born in South Africa but now based in Tokyo, she’s passionate about languages and people. Megan spends her free time exploring secondhand shops, camping in the mountains and hosting the occasional dinner party.