Archive for the ‘Translation’ Category

Unlocking Secured Password Protected PDF Files

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Out of all the possible file formats out there, translating a PDF document is usually the worst-case scenario. The only thing worse than a PDF, is a locked password-protected PDF with security settings that don’t allow you to even copy and paste text out of it. It’s very difficult to look up Japanese words if you can’t copy the text, and you definitely can’t make use of translation memory software if you have no access to the text. So here is a simple way to unlock those secured PDFs to get access to the text.

You Will Need

A Linux computer or VM with Ghostscript installed.

How to Unlock the Secured PDF with Ghostscript

We’re actually going to create a identical copy of the PDF that is unlocked. We’ll use Ghostscript to do this. Ghostscript is a PostScript and PDF language interpreter and previewer that is commonly found pre-installed on most major Linux distributions. If it isn’t already installed, it can be easily obtained using your distro’s package management tool.

Using Ghostscript on Linux, you can unlock a PDF with a single command:

gs -q -dNOPAUSE -dBATCH -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -sOutputFile=OUTPUT.pdf -c 
.setpdfwrite -f INPUT.pdf

That’s a rather long series of parameters, so let’s break it down so you understand what is going on.

  • The gs command invokes Ghostscript.
  • The -q switch invokes quiet mode, which suppresses a lot of messages that you probably aren’t interested in.
  • The -dNOPAUSE switch enables no pause after each page.
  • The -dBATCH switch will exit after the last file completes.
  • The -sDEVICE=pdfwrite switch selects the device. In this case, we select the pdfwrite device to create a PDF. Ghostscript works with numerous devices for almost every possible format, including graphic formats such as jpeg, tiff, png, bmp, etc.
  • The -sOutputFile=OUTPUT.pdf switch selects the output file that we are creating. We read in a locked PDF, and we create a new, unlocked PDF file called OUTPUT.pdf in this case.
  • The .setpdfwrite operator automatically sets up parameters that are useful for creating PDFs using the pdfwrite output device.
  • Our locked PDF file we want to unlock is INPUT.pdf in this example.

Converting Multiple Files in Batch

Suppose you have an entire directory full of locked PDF files you want to unlock. Here is a quick little Bash script you can do on the Linux command line to unlock all the PDFs at once.

for x in *.pdf
   gs -q -dNOPAUSE -dBATCH -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -sOutputFile=converted_$x -c 
   .setpdfwrite -f $x;

In this script, all of the converted PDFs will be prefixed with converted_.

That’s all there is to it. If you have a Linux computer or virtual machine, it just takes one command to create an unlocked copy of the PDF.

A Star is Born – Introducing Honyaku Star Japanese/English Dictionary

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Today I’m launching Honyaku Star, a new online Japanese/English dictionary.

The goal of Honyaku Star is to be the world’s most comprehensive free, online Japanese/English dictionary and corpus. Honyaku Star is built on top of numerous excellent community dictionaries, and adds to it the Honyaku Star dictionary, which tries to fill in everything else that isn’t in those general dictionaries, with the goal to be the best, and only dictionary you need.

Honyaku Star is more than a dictionary, it is also a Japanese/English bilingual corpus. In other words, a database of parallel texts to provide context, usage, and examples of words and phrases you search for. Many words have lots of valid translation varieties, and seeing it used in various different contexts can help you understand the different meanings and pick the appropriate usage. When you search in Honyaku Star, you get dictionary results and example sentences together.

I built Honyaku Star because I use online Japanese/English dictionaries every day, and none of them satisfied me. There are certain things I want, and don’t want out of an online Japanese/English dictionary. So, I built Honyaku Star based on the principles I think are important.

  • Dictionaries and language resources should be free and easily accessible.
  • The one and only dictionary advanced students and translators will need.
  • Lots of relevant results for a search query. 1,000 results if possible.
  • Provide in-context usage and examples sentences.
  • Clean, simple user interface.
  • No pagination in the UI.
  • Searches should be super fast. Instantaneous!
  • No visual distractions. No ads. No random Web content. No useless information like character encoding codes.
  • No advanced search! It should be smart and bring back results in an intelligent way.
  • The primary goal of a searchable dictionary is to be a useful language resource–it should not a means to draw you in and sell you language services or books.

I think I’ve kept with my design principles on this initial version, and it’s only going to get better with time.

The technology behind Honyaku Star is Linux, PHP, Perl, MySQL, and the awesome full-text index Mroonga. I’ll post more about some of the technical challenges in future posts.

Honestly, I made Honyaku Star for myself, to be the ideal dictionary that I’d want to use everyday. But my hope is others will find it useful. All user feedback is welcome and appreciated. And if you use and like Honyaku Star, consider contributing translations to it.

Start using Honyaku Star today at

ALC Advanced Search Options (英辞郎 on the Web)

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Space ALC (英辞郎 on the Web) is one of the most useful Japanese translation tools on the Internet. It is a translation dictionary and translation memory that can be searched in both Japanese and English. It has everything from highly technical terminology to colloquial spoken slang. The key feature that separates ALC from all the other online dictionaries is the huge set of example sentences it has in its database. Whether you are looking up a word or phrase, ALC returns results for what you looked up as well as in-context example sentences.

ALC has many advanced search options similar to search engines like Google that you can use to refine your search queries. Let’s take a look at some of these search options.

Basic Search Options

And Search (Word1 Word2)

Search for phrases containing two or more search terms in the results. The search results will contain all the search terms.

Instructions: Put a space between each search term to be included in the search result.

Example: 野球 サッカー

Example: up down

Or Operator [Standalone] (Word1 | Word2)

Search for phrases containing one or more search terms in the results. The search results will contain at least one of the search terms.

Instructions: Put a | (vertical bar) between the search terms.

Example: 製造装置 | 製造設備

Example: USPS | FedEx

Or Operator [Within Phrase] (Word1 | Word2)

Search for different variations of phrases containing one of the terms in the parenthesis.

Instructions: Put a | (vertical bar) between the search terms that are inside of ().

Example: (ケーキ|ピザ)を食べます

Example: do (one’s | my | your | his | her | its | our | their) best

Exact Phrase Search (“Phrase”)

Search for an exact phrase.

Instructions: Put the phrase within double quotes “”.

Example: “open source software”

Advanced Search Options

Designating Number of Words In Between (Word {#} Word)

Specify a certain number of words between search terms.

Instructions: Put the number of words you want to appear between words in braces. For a specific number of words, put one number, like {2}. For a range of possibilities, put the end limits in braces, like {1,3}.

Example: make {2} request

This example will find phrases like make a personal request that have two words between make and request, but will not find phrases like make a request that only have one word in between.

Example: thank you {2,4} cooperation

Search All Conjugations ([Word])

Search for all variations of an English word such as verb conjugations and plurals, etc.

Instructions: Put the variable word in brackets [].

Example: “[go] the distance”

This example finds all forms of the word go, including the past tense went the distance. Notice we put the entire search query in quotes to find the full phrase.

Example: [take] pictures of

This example fines take, takes, taking, took, etc.

Terms to Exclude (-Word)

Exclude certain translations from your search results. Useful to narrow your focus when there are multiple translations for a word.

Instructions: Put a dash – before the word to exclude.

Example: サッカー -soccer

This example will find examples of the word 「サッカー」 that exclude the American translation of soccer, and finds those examples that use football instead.

Example: diet -国会

This example will exclude the Japanese governmental body the Diet. This is useful if you are looking for food and diet related translations.

Multiple Search Options

You can combine search options for really advanced search queries.

Example: “[take] (my | our | your | his | her) picture -can”

This example uses the exact phrase quotes, the conjugation search [], the or operator within a phrase, and the not operator to remove phrases containing the word can.

Searching ALC can often find hundreds of translations. These advanced search options are easy to use and can help narrow down what you are looking for.

For more information, refer to the ALC Help – Basic Usage, Help – High Level Usage, and Search Tips pages. These ALC help pages are all in Japanese.

Special Concerns for Translating Japanese Using Translation Memory

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

The use of translation memory, such as software products like SDL Trados, greatly increase the speed and efficiency of a translator. However, there are special concerns that must be taken into account when translating with a translation memory where Japanese is the source language. Japanese has some linguistic characteristics that are significantly different from English, and when using a Japanese to English translation memory, you can run into trouble if you are not careful.

The biggest benefit a translation memory can bring you is providing you with a 100% match and eliminating any translation work for that sentence. Best practices say you should always proofread your translations, even if it is from a 100% TM match—although it is hardly ever done. With Japanese, however, you check your 100% matches because the translations may not be accurate for reasons we will discuss.


Japanese does not have different singular and plural forms of nouns the same way English does. There are specific instances where a plural-like form is used, but these are the exception rather than the norm. Let’s look at a simple example:


You could translate this sentence two different ways:

  • Remove the screw.
  • Remove the screws.

Which is correct? Well, that depends on how many screws there are. In Japanese, this one sentence covers both instances. Suppose your translation memory had only this translation pair in the database:

  • JA: ねじを取り外す。
  • EN: Remove the screw.

If the sentence you are currently translating matches the Japanese, but in this present context there are multiple screws, the matching 100% translation is not correct.

This shows why context is important—even more so in Japanese. And if you use software like SDL Trados or some other CAT tool that only provides you with an XLIFF file, you may not have the surrounding images and context to know whether there is one or many screws.

How can we remedy this for the next person that uses our translation memory? We can definitely save a new translation for this sentence, and our TM now looks like this.

  • JA: ねじを取り外す。
  • EN: Remove the screw.
  • EN: Remove the screws.

This is fine for the translator—they can cycle through the multiple translations and select the best one, assuming they know the context to be able to pick the right one. On the other hand, this is not ideal for the person paying for the translation. Generally only 100% matches are done for free or at a greatly reduced price. When duplicate translations exists for a single source segment, SDL Trados and other software will flag this with some sort of penalty so it will be less than a 100% match, often a 99% match, which will cost more to translate.

The best way to deal with this, and the hardest to implement, is for the original Japanese language authors to write with context, knowing that their documents will be the source language for translation. Ideally, there should be multiple versions of the Japanese sentence. For example

  • JA: ねじ(1本)を取り外す。
  • EN: Remove the screw.
  • JA: ねじ(2本)を取り外す。
  • EN: Remove the two screws.
  • JA: ねじ(3本)を取り外す。
  • EN: Remove the three screws.

If the source Japanese text is written with specific contextual information, this solves the problem and there will not be any ambiguous 100% hits in the translation memory. Unfortunately, original source texts are hardly ever written with translation in mind.

Capital and Lowercase Letters

Japanese similarly does not have an equivalent of capital and lowercase letters. A hiragana is a hiragana and a kanji character is a kanji character. In English, usually only the first word of a sentence is capitalized. This is called sentence capitalization. However, titles, headings, etc. have all the major words capitalized. This is called heading capitalization.

Japanese will have the same exactly sentence whether it is a title/heading sentence or it is a normal sentence in the text body. English will have two variations. One with heading capitalization, and one with sentence capitalization. Similar to the ambiguity with plurals, we have ambiguity with capitalization. If we only have the heading capitalization style sentence in the translation memory, that will hit a 100% match when the same Japanese sentence appears in the text body, but the corresponding English 100% match will have the wrong capitalization.

Unlike the pluralization problem, there is no clear fix to avoid the capitalization problem. There is no simple and obvious way we could rewrite the original Japanese text to have multiple variations for heading and sentence style contexts. In these instances, it is important to verify all 100% matches in the translation memory for the proper context.

Sentences with No Subject or Object

This is something uniquely Japanese: sentences with no subject. This is completely normal in Japanese—and absolutely unheard of in English. Sentences can also have direct object verbs with no object whatsoever. There is nothing wrong with sentences without subjects or objects in Japanese. The problem, however, is when translating these sentences. It is difficult without proper context. Now, consider translating with a translation memory, and you can begin to understand the complexity of the situation.

Consider how you would translate this Japanese sentence:


This sentence has no subject and no object. In context it is probably clear what the meaning is, but by itself it is all sorts of vague. Let’s imagine two completely different, but totally reasonable translations for this sentence:

  • When it’s done, remove it.
  • When you are finished, take apart the pieces

Both of these are reasonable translations in two completely different contexts. However if the first English translation is registered in the translation memory and it came up as a 100% match, it would be totally wrong if the context were the second sentence.

Context is everything when translating ambiguous Japanese sentences. But a translation memory does not preserve that context. Even if you know what came before and what comes afterwards, that still may not be enough to know the full context of the original Japanese meaning. Even though you are getting a 100% match in the translation memory, instead of being just a little wrong such as singular/plural or capitalization mistakes, it may be completely wrong in terms of meaning!

Same Words Written Differently

In English we have many words and expressions that have the same meaning, and therefore, we can say the same thing many different ways. But Japanese takes this a step further: you can write the same word many different ways!

For example, the word screw could be written: ねじ、ネジ、ネジ、螺子. That’s four different ways to write the same word.

Another example, the word install could be written: 取り付ける、取付ける、取りつける、とりつける. Again, that is four different ways to write the same word, and we didn’t even consider other forms such as です・ます調 or 敬語.

Now, take these two words and construct the same sentence, and look at the number of possibilities you have to say the same exact thing with the same exact words, only written differently.

  • ねじを取り付ける。
  • ねじを取付ける。
  • ねじを取りつける。
  • ねじをとりつける。
  • ネジを取り付ける。
  • ネジを取付ける。
  • ネジを取りつける。
  • ネジをとりつける。
  • ネジを取り付ける。
  • ネジを取付ける。
  • ネジを取りつける。
  • ネジをとりつける。
  • ネ螺子を取り付ける。
  • ネ螺子を取付ける。
  • ネ螺子を取りつける。
  • ネ螺子をとりつける。

That is 16 different possibilities! Now imagine your translation memory only has one of these variations registered in the database. When you come across the exact same sentence, but only written differently, you will not get a 100% match, even though you have basically the exact same sentence in one form or another right in front of you. And this sentence is so short, you might not even get any match at all if the hit percentage is set high.

Author variation and style guides conformance are very important in the original source language to prevent these kinds of problems. This is big issue in itself that I’ll take up in another article.

Japanese is very different from English, and when translating, you have to take into greater account the textual context and other issues. And this becomes even more so when dealing with a translation memory containing Japanese as a source language.

Translation memory software such as SDL Trados is very useful, and can be used to great benefit even in Japanese. However, you must be aware of these kinds of issues and double check all of your translations, especially your 100% matches.

Japanese Related Jobs

Monday, September 5th, 2011

If you speak Japanese, or are learning Japanese in college and want to find a job when you graduate where you can use your Japanese language skills, there are lots of options out there. Here are some industries and strategies for a Japanese-related career.

Local Japanese Companies

Assuming you don’t live in Japan, you can try to find a Japanese company that does business where you live. Many large Japanese companies are multinational and have offices all around the globe. For example, the top Japanese auto manufacturers: Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, etc; High tech companies: Fujitsu, Toshiba, Tokyo Electron, Sony, Hitachi, Canon, NEC, Sharp, Sanyo, Fujifilm; Airlines: JAL, ANA; Video game companies: Square-Enix, Capcom, Nintendo; and the list goes on.

Japanese companies outside of Japan will always need Japanese speakers for everything from translation to supply chain operations to human resources for expats. Some positions could make full-time use of your Japanese skill, while for others, your main duty is something else, but merely having Japanese ability will be a huge plus to helping the work go smoother.

You don’t have to move to Japan to get a job where you use Japanese—you might have a Japanese company in your town that needs Japanese language skills.

Local Companies Doing Business in Japan

Non-Japanese companies are probably the most overlooked sources of Japanese-related jobs for Japanese speakers. Most large companies and multinationals all do business abroad. Some have direct operations in other countries, and some work through more indirect methods. In either case, there is often a need for people with language ability for those markets.

If a company has any sort of documentation, manuals, Web sites, etc., they have a need for product localization. Some may do it all in-house, while others contract it out to language service providers. For larger companies that do a lot of business in Japan, they may have on-staff language resources for product localization, testing, translation, etc. And even if they contract the translation work out to a vendor, they will need a localization manager to handle this work. Being bilingual is almost always a requirement for handling the translation vendor relations. Even if Japanese isn’t the most used language, it still helps that you have experience with a second language in order to be familiar with some of the issues that come up with translation and localization.

In addition to translation and localization related jobs, there are many opportunities on the business side for a Japanese speaker: supply chain management, import and export, making business arrangements, product marketing, etc. For any role that is needed to make business operations successful, having language ability for the target market can only improve your ability to handle the business matters even more smoothly.

Working in Japan

If you already live in Japan, then you have an advantage if your goal is to find a Japanese-related job. For everybody else, this will be a little more difficult. You can always apply directly to companies you are interested in, and there are also Web sites and organizations that can help.

The JET program is well known for bringing English teachers to Japan, but they also have a lesser known program called CIR (Coordinator for International Relations). Unlike a JET English teacher, a JET CIR works in a local Japanese city office or something similar and works on international projects and organizes cultural activities. Also unlike the JET English teacher position, the CIR position requires Japanese language ability because you will be working among Japanese coworkers.

If the JET CIR if not what you are looking for, you can always try to find a job from abroad through job posting sites. One site in particular that specializes in jobs in Japan is (Work in Japan). DaiJob has a full range of listings. What I find very useful is each listing will list what level of Japanese proficiency is required. For example, some jobs might only required a casual conversational level, whereas others may require a level 2 or level 1 proficiency in the JLPT. This can really help you gauge what jobs are appropriate for your language ability level. There is also the business focused Japanese certification test, the BJT (Business Japanese Proficiency Test).

Language Service Providers

Language service providers, or LSPs, are companies that provide translation and other linguistic services. These are big, and often multinational companies that work with companies to provide translation, localization, and even product marketing services to take their products into new markets. Some companies, like SimulTrans for example, concentrate on the translation, localization, and globalization of your products/documentation. Other LSPs, like Sajan and SDL offer those services and much more. They have their own specialized software and managed services they offer in addition to the traditional translation services.

You can definitely work for an LSP as a translator, but that is not the limit of what they offer. Translation also requires proofreaders, reviews by subject matter experts, graphic designers and desktop publishing experts, audio and visual engineers, programmers, and quality assurance people. Additionally, project managers are there in every step to handle the business aspects as well as the translation resources. I imagine it is a requirement at most LSPs to be bilingual to even be a project manager. You can work in the translation industry and put your Japanese skill to use even if you aren’t doing translation work directly. A good project manager makes a big difference in the quality of the translations.


If you can speak, read and write Japanese proficiently as well as another language, then you can work as a translator. Translation jobs vary greatly by subject matter, location, job arrangement, etc. In other words, there are many ways to get into and go about being a translator.

Language Service Providers

One common option is to work for one of the previously mentioned language service providers. Most LSPs require you to translate into your native language. So for example, if your native language is English and you also speak Japanese, you would translate Japanese texts into English.

While it is probably possible to work at an actual LSP office as a translator, you would most likely work from home. You can set your own hours as long as you meet deadlines and commitments. Contracting with an LSP is similar to freelance translation work, except that the LSP takes care of all the business arrangements and provides you with the work for projects. As a translator, you can focus more on the translation task without worrying about trying to find, line up, and manage clients. The downside to this is you may have to accept their word rate and use whatever translation tools they require or provide. However, the upside is they handle the business arrangements and are more likely to be able to continually supply you with steady work.

LSPs generally contract with translators in any country that there is need. If you live in the U.S.A., Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, and most European countries, it should be easy to find work doing Japanese translation work. While general translation work is always in need, specialized translation is also very common. As a translator, it is helpful to have experience or expertise in a certain field. Common areas that might require experience or expertise to get the translation job are: Legal, IT/computers, patents, medical, manufacturing, marketing/advertising, and so on. If you have a background or past experience in a certain field, that can be the advantage you have over other translators to being an LSP’s go-to person for those types of translations.

Translation is a big part of what LSPs do, but it isn’t the only job you can do for them as a contractor working at home. Every translation will need reviewers and proofreaders. Proofreaders may just check translations for language, and subject matter experts may check the translation for technical accuracy. They also need people with language skills who can work with graphics and page layout software.

To work for an LSP, you will most likely need to be familiar with how translation memory software works. The most used software is SDL Trados, although it is certainly not the only translation memory software out there. Learning translation memory software, multilingual glossary software, and learning what other dictionaries and translation tools are out there is definitely worth doing.

Freelance Translation

If you prefer even more freedom than is offered from an LSP, you can go into business for yourself as a freelance translator. You find your own clients, set your own prices, and determine how you will get the work done. For some people, this is a more attractive option than directly contracting with an LSP, especially if you are more business minded. For others, the freedom you have is the key point. For instance, many LSPs will require that you use specific translation software, such as SDL Trados. If you don’t like Trados, find it prohibitively expensive, or just prefer other software, then freelancing usually affords you that freedom.

The downside to freelancing of course is that you are on your own to find work. For any job posted to a job site, you may be competing with any number of other people for the job. There is also an element of risk when always working with different clients. Method of payment, details of work, required software, expectations, and attitudes vary greatly from client to client. However, if you find a good client and do good work, you have the potential to be their go-to person and receive steady work. Also, when you work directly for the client, you have a better chance of getting direct answers to questions that may come up during a job, whereas with an LSP you may have to ask questions indirectly through the LSP’s project manager.

To get started in the world of freelance translation, I would recommend checking out This is an excellent Web site for translators. They have job postings and client ratings, and also an active BBS for a wide range of translation-related discussions.

To get a leg up over other freelance translators, you may also consider improving your qualifications. A language-related certification could be the thing that a client uses to pick you over another translator. For Japanese, the gold standard in language skills is the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). For practical translation skills, there are translation certifications as well. Once such qualification is from the American Translators Association.

Translator at a Company

Large companies that do business in Japan, especially if they have local documentation, product localization, and Web operations teams, may have a need for local language experts. For example, a company like Apple Inc., which has the majority of its operations in the United States, probably has Japanese speakers at the local U.S. operations to manage the Japanese localization of products, Web sites, and online help bulletin boards. There are probably many companies in the same situation that sell globally, but operate locally.


Interpreters are needed whenever people with different language backgrounds need to communicate. There are two types of interpretation: simultaneous and consecutive. Simultaneous interpretation is when the interpreter is speaking at the same time as the speaker. The people listening to the interpreter usually have a headset on. This is common for the United Nations, and big, generally assembly type meetings or conferences. Simultaneous interpreters need to be exceptionally proficient in both languages and be trained to translate in real time. Simultaneous interpreters usually command a high hourly rate and are used only at high profile events.

Consecutive interpretation is when one party speaks, and then you translate what they said. And then the other party speaks, and you translate what they said. This type of interpretation is often needed for business meetings, training conferences, business telephone calls, court rooms, hospitals, and any place where people of different language backgrounds will be working together. A business meeting may last all day and provide a nice hourly rate. In contrast, an insurance company may only need to communicate with someone involved in a car accident over the phone for 10 minutes. And then, legal matters that end up going to court could potentially last for weeks. This type of interpretation is less demanding than simultaneous interpretation, but you still may need expertise in a certain field.

You can definitely freelance as an interpreter. In fact, some people supplement their normal translation jobs with interpretation jobs. However, the need for interpretation can some times come up without notice, and many businesses may need to keep on file a language service provider that can accommodate these types of requests. It is very common to work for an LSP and be dispatched to local businesses or take phone calls as the need for interpretation comes up.


If you fly to or from Japan, half of the passengers will likely be Japanese. In turn, the airlines will need bilingual Japanese speakers to be flight attendants and gate personnel and other roles. American carriers like American, Continental, Delta, etc., and overseas carriers like JAL and ANA all fly internationally to and from Japan, and need people who speak Japanese. And from my experience flying, a high level of fluency isn’t required. You just need enough conversational skills to serve meals, take requests, and see that the flight goes smoothly.

Japanese Jobs Summary

Japanese related jobs are out there, and often available in places you may not even considered looking. While Japanese translators will always be needed, it is not the only field where Japanese language skills are required. Be business minded and think about what the company needs might be, be it locally or globally. And even if a business does not do business in Japan, you might be the person with Japanese language skills they were waiting for to initiate their global entry into Japan.

Good luck in your Japanese related job searches.

Italics in Japanese

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

When translating a document with formatting, such as a Microsoft Word document, you can’t always use the original source-language formatting in the translated language as is. This is especially true of italic type in Japanese. What works in italics in English does not work in Japanese. The formatting must be changed.

The main reason for this is Japanese text can become nearly unreadable when set in italic type. This is especially the case on low resolution monitors when displaying kanji in bold, italic fonts.

When translating English into Japanese, it is best to change the formatting for text in Japanese that was originally in italic type in English.

Here is a mini style guide of recommendations of how to format Japanese text that was translated from English set in italic type.


Use a Gothic bold-face type, or write the word in katakana if appropriate.


Another way to show emphasis is to use a well-known English phrase and write it in katakana.


Titles of Books, Publications, Media, etc.

Use the Japanese double quotation marks to quote the name of a publication.


Foreign Words

In English these would be written in italics. In Japanese, they will be written in either katakana or romanized type, which serves the function of designating it a foreign word.

Introducing or Defining Terms

Use the Japanese single quotation marks.



In other instances where italics are used in English, it is usually safe to use the Japanese single quotation marks.

In general, it is best to avoid italic type in Japanese. Certain Japanese typefaces don’t even have an italic font to begin with. It is very important to thoroughly proofread documents translated into Japanese for these types of formatting issues. What is natural in English can produce something almost unreadable in Japanese. And it will be a lot more natural to use something other than italics.

This also works the other way around when translating from Japanese into English. Where quotation  marks and katakana etc. are used in Japanese should be changed into italics in the English translation where appropriate.

Using Wikipedia as a Translation Resource

Monday, February 21st, 2011

When you are translating something, sometimes there are words or phrases that just aren’t in the dictionary. A site like ALC is amazing for Japanese/English translations, but even ALC doesn’t have everything.

In those cases, I have found Wikipedia to be an excellent online resource for doing translations. Although a word or phrase might not be in the dictionary, there might be a Wikipedia article about it. And if there is a Wikipedia article in one language, it might have a translated version of that article in another language.

Using the Languages Sidebar to Find Translations

On the left-hand side of each Wikipedia article is a sidebar with lots of options. One of these options is for languages.

If there is a similar article in a the Japanese language Wikipedia, you will see the link for 日本語 to read the Japanese article.

For example, when translating manufacturing documents that deal with chemicals, you will often come across an MSDS (material safety data sheet). This type of phrase is usually not in the dictionary, but it has an established name in Japanese. To find the proper Japanese, just go to the English Wikipedia article for MSDS, and click on the link to the Japanese version of the article and you will see that it is 「化学物質安全性データシート」.

Lots of phrases that are difficult to look up in dictionaries may have a dedicated Wikipedia article that you can use to find the translated Wikipedia article, which will lead you to the correct translation.

Using Wikipedia to Better Understand How to Translate Something

Sometimes even Wikipedia doesn’t have translated articles of what you need to translate. This is often the case for something that is very unique to the source language you are translating.

An example of this I came across at work translating semiconductor maintenance procedures from Japanese to English is the Japanese phrase KY. It is often written in English just like that. In Japanese they often use English for certain things for them to stand out. In this case, however, I was stumped as to what this was—until I searched Japanese Wikipedia.

Japanese Wikipedia had an article linked from KY to the main article for 「危険予知訓練」. This made sense in the context of what I was translating. This was what KY meant: kiken yochi. Although there is no English article link to get the proper English translation (probably because we don’t use the phrase KY in English), there is enough of an explanation to understand what kiken yochi is and how to translate it. And, as luck would have it, the Japanese article has an English example of what kiken yochi is: tool box meeting.

After reading about kiken yochi and discussing it with others, we came up with pre-task planning as the translation we would use. Job hazard analysis is also a suitable translation for KY.

In the case of KY, Wikipedia did not have a direct link to a translated English article because the term KY is Japanese for kiken yochi, but it did provide enough explanation to be able to come up with an appropriate translation.

If you can’t find a translation for something, learn about it and come up with your own. Wikipedia is often a great resource to learn enough about something to be able to translate it when you come across a term or phrase that just isn’t in any dictionary.

Translating Sentences for Trados Rather Than Ideas

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

The benefits of translation memory tools such as Trados for translating are numerous; but they have their negatives as well. They encourage the translator to translate everything on a sentence by sentence basis. Every source sentence will have a corresponding target sentence. It is not always ideal to translate in this manner.

For example, consider the following Japanese sentence and its translation:


I like sushi. However, I cannot eat sea urchin.

Notice that in Japanese it is natural to say that all in one sentence. English on the other hand works better as two sentences.

If you translated that Japanese sentence using Trados, you can split the English translation into two sentences. However, if you use that translation memory for translating English, you will get no matches for the sentences I like sushi, or However, I cannot eat sea urchin. You would have to know to expand the segment to span two sentences.

Translation memory CAT tools like Trados encourage you to translate with a one-to-one correspondence so the translation memory is useful in both directions. It is wasteful to misalign sentences because the resulting TM will not work if the language direction is reversed. Therefore, a translator using Trados will probably translate the above sentence as I like sushi, but I cannot eat sea urchin. This sentence is fine by itself, but it doesn’t have the same impact as separating them as single ideas.

This is just a simple example, but the problem is much bigger than style choices. When using Trados, you translate entire paragraphs line by line. Every source has a matching target. However, the way you organize a paragraph and express an idea in one language, may not be the same as in another language. But with Trados, you don’t have that freedom. You are given a sentence to translate, and then another, and another. You don’t have the freedom you would if you were translating by hand. If you choose the expand the source segment to encompass the entire paragraph, you have essentially made that segment worthless with respect to the translation memory.

Trados and translation memory CAT software are great tools, but they encourage translation of single sentences, rather than ideas or concepts. A test often used after a translation is to run the translation memory that was created against the original source document. You expect to get 100% matches for the entire document. However, a good translator will not translate everything line by line with one-to-one correspondence between source and target.

Translation is more than converting a sentence from one language to another. It’s about expressing something naturally in a different language. CAT tools like Trados don’t encourage the natural translation of ideas, but rather the conversion of sentences.

First Ever to be Trados Certified

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

In 2006, SDL unveiled their Trados Certification program. I had been using Trados extensively at work and thought it would be neat to have the official Trados certification on my resume.

Soon after they released the Trados training program and certification tests, I signed up online to take the tests. To my surprise, the tests were hard. It had questions about what the specific menu names were and little details like that. If I had not used Trados as much as I had, I don’t think I would have passed. You had to be really familiar with the entire suite of tools.

I passed the test and got my own personal certification page generatred:

What was surprising was what came next. A few weeks later I got a package at work from SDL Trados. They sent a congratulatory card informing me that I was the first person to pass the Trados certification, and a bottle of vintage champagne! I certainly wasn’t expecting any of that.

Following that, they contacted me again for a quote and profile to put up on their certification Web site: ( They also asked for a picture of me, but I guess I wasn’t photogenic enough for their site because they put a generic image of someone else above my quote. The current version of the page has a women and multiple quotes now.

SDL Trados Certification Page

In the end, it’s kind of neat. I can tell people I was the first person to ever be certified by SDL Trados. Since then I have also passed their SDL Trados 2007 certification as well.

Can You Translate This?

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

At work I’m often asked things such as “How long will it take to translate 10 pages?” Managers usually don’t like my answer; They want to hear a specific time frame to fill in some gantt chart or something. The reality is, it depends. Most managers and such don’t understand what goes into translating something. It’s not as straightforward as just translating the words. There are other aspects that go into the localization process than just translation.

Expertise. No one is an expert on everything. If you have a technical document that needs translating, you first have to understand the content of the document. If you don’t understand electromagnetic fields in your native language, how are you going to translate that subject from another language. You will often have to research the subject matter before and during the translation process. It takes time to get familiar with a topic. It takes more time to look up industry and field specific terminology and concepts. If you have SMEs at your company, you are at the mercy of their schedules when you cannot locate information yourself.

Working with others. Unfortunately, not all translation projects can be done solely by the translator. For example, if you are given a video and asked to subtitle it in a different language, there are many steps involve that most people don’t realize:

  • Transcribe the audio
  • Translate the text
  • Match the text to the video
  • Reedit the video with the translated subtitles
  • QA check the subtitled video

Ideally, the translator will be provided with the transcription of the audio with a copy of the video so they can immediately start the translation. Then, work with the editor to set cut points for the translated text. Then the editor will reedit the video, and send it to the translator to check.

Unfortunately, what usually happens is the translator is sent the video and asked to translate subtitles for it. Now the translator has to spend time transcribing the text, then translate it. Next, they must come up with cut points themselves, and hope the editor understands it. The editor will then receive the translation and edit them into the video. It will probably never be checked, and most likely the subtitles aren’t going to match the on-screen dialog.

File formats. How long it will take to translate a document depends on what format it’s in. An XML file with pure text content and no markup can be translated easily. The text can be extracted and run through the translators favorite translation software.

A PDF on the other hand is not as easily accessible. Text may be extractable with some amount of effort, but the original document structure and style cannot be rebuilt automatically. Therefore, the translator will have to spend considerable time doing page layout work.

The worst case scenario is a scanned document, or raster graphics files. The text cannot even be extracted from the document, so translation software can’t be used. With a language like Japanese where a translator may not know the pronunciation of hard technical terms, the inability to cut and paste those words into an online dictionary creates lots of problems.

Most people don’t consider the file format when sending something to be translated. The just want it translated, and don’t want to pay for page layout and text extraction, because they don’t think that is involved with the translation process. If you send a Word document to a translator, but that word document has 50 JPGs in it with text to be translated, you are asking the translator to be a graphics specialist as well.

There are a lot that goes into the translation process. Translators often have to do much more than just translate words to do a good translation. Managers need to understand what goes into this process and provide translators with the resources they need so they can specialize on what they do best.