Challenges when translating the video clip, solutions, and the rationales

Caitlin: The most difficult aspect of the project for me was transcribing the original video into Japanese. It can sometimes be very difficult to catch what was actually being said – and while I can get the general gist of what was being said, I could not pick up on the specifics. It was definitely helpful to work in pairs (and then in multiple small groups) to piece together the transcript. Everyone picks up on different things and I think it was useful to be able to have a second pair of ears and eyes to talk through it. I think we did really well putting the whole transcription together. 

As for the actual translations, I think it was difficult to come up with a translation that everyone was happy with. Everyone has different experiences with English, and while some words and expressions have particular significance for one group of people it might mean something totally different to others. But I do think this was an important thing to remember when we translated for a public audience – it’s important to know who your audience is and what kinds of experiences they bring to the table. I think it was especially useful for us to work in pairs then switch up the groups, because it gave multiple perspectives which was helpful in coming up with our final translations. 

Kerry: I think one of our biggest challenges was narrowing down the translations to the final draft. In our translation process, multiple students translated the same passages, resulting in a variety of options to choose from. There were so many great ideas for each segment, it was truly difficult to choose between them. In some cases, we were able to decide because one was significantly shorter, and therefore better suited for subtitle form, or because one was easier to understand for an international audience, our target audience. Otherwise, it was really a matter of preference. In terms of translation, I think it is less a question of “right” or “wrong” but rather “this fits best for our audience and context.” 

Ray: To me, the most difficult part was also narrowing down the translation. Personally, I think all of our translations are great. Choosing among them (especially when two translations are similar) therefore was hard, and I hesitated to make the decision when discussing in groups. Because of this, the process of narrowing down became slow and time consuming. So although working in pairs was helpful, I think it’s especially important to limit the time for discussion. Every version of translation has its merits and group discussion matters, but we should also consider the efficiency of the work. 

Sarah: While transcribing the original Japanese was a bit difficult at times, with the Kansai dialect and some spoken words being slurred together, by far the most difficult part of this translation was deciding on a final translation as a whole class. Translating in pairs was very fun, but once we started doing it in groups of four or all together as a class it became much harder to decide on a single translation that was “best.” Oftentimes it was difficult simply because our translations were all so similar, with only slight variations. It does seem like translation as a process can go on for a long time, and editing is constant — even after we’d decided on a translation sometimes someone would come up with another one that worked well. Distinguishing between formal and casual language in English (where we don’t have such rigid distinctions) was also a challenge at times. Actually adding subtitles to the video itself was more of a challenge than I’d originally expected, with the timing being so precise (also, layering translations of text on the screen as well as translations of spoken dialogue in the same scene became quite cluttered).

Eika: The challenging part of translating the video was combining different translations to form one. Because translations are so personal and are very creative in itself, yielding to another way of writing it was sometimes difficult. Logically, both translations can be correct, however trying to prioritize one translation over another was very difficult. One version could highlight an aspect the other one didn’t, and we would have to capture both points within a few words to create one translation. The solution to this generally was to think of the audience and what information that we wanted them to take away from the subtitles. If we thought that some detail was not as important, then we could exclude that and use that space to highlight other information in the sentence. That way, the audience could extract only the information they needed in the small time they were given to read the subtitles.

Yena: A big challenge for me was translating was choosing the final version of the translations. Multiple groups translated the same part, and it was not like any of the translations were wrong. Each translation either differed in sentence structure, or word choice, but were all expressing the meaning that was written in Japanese. One translation might have the better sentence structure, but another might have better word choices. Sometimes, what “better” means might also differ between people. Therefore, when we chose the last version of the translations, not only did we consider the level of correctness of the translation, we also put thought into the length of the sentence, the culture background or age of the potential audience, and punctuations.

Quinn: I think a big challenge for me was transcribing. Translations can be different and that’s okay; a transcription has to be 100% faithful, though. There’s no room for interpretation. Plus, it is so hard to understand Japanese spoken at a normal pace in a dialect. Ultimately, repetition—listening over and over again—was my best friend, and being able to ask other people if the dialogue sounded like what I thought it sounded like was invaluable. Another challenge for me was translating particularly lengthy sentences. In Japanese, you can construct long sentences with a bunch of different clauses and it still makes sense, but in English—particularly spoken English—it sounds strange. I ended up deciding that it was more important to convey the gist of statement, and the emotions behind it, than have a 100% faithful translation in terms of exact wording. A translation is always going to be imperfect and subjective, so sometimes you just have to prioritize what you think is most important.

On the flip side, because translation is so subjective, it was difficult to choose a final translation for the lines. Like Ray said, all of the translations everyone came up with were great, so whether there were slight differences—like the placement of a comma or the use of “hi” versus “hello”—or big differences in terms of grammar structure, I could understand the reasoning behind all of them. Ultimately, I think a big thing that helped us narrow down our choices was consistency—asking ourselves things like, Would the character talk like that, given what we know about them? or, Does this line read very differently from every other line we’ve drafted so far?

Where the most creativity was applied

Caitlin: I personally applied the most creativity when we were trying to make the translations sound fluent. Once we got all the information we wanted to convey down, all that was left would be to word our information in a way that was true to the original form while making sense in the translated language. 

Kerry: Trying to make translations that fit the personality/relationships of the characters was one area where we applied a lot of creativity. It was really interesting to try to convey the emotions of the annoyed college student, the awkward uncle, and the separated parents through their word choice and punctuation. The film presents a lot of subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) emotionally charged scenes, which we really wanted to bring out in the English translation.

Ray: The creator presented us a very beautiful story that her video flows like a poem. However, it is also one of the challenging parts of the translation, for telling the same story in English while keeping the poetic side of it is not an easy task. Also, though the meaning is mostly the same, the texts (e.g. ただひたすらに、私は今を見つめる), while being translated into English, can lose their nuances. So when working on the translations, not only I looked for words that convey the same meaning and emotion, I also tried to make the translated texts more poetic. 

Sarah: I think the most creativity was applied in all of our small groups when trying to match the tone/speech patterns of the younger characters and the older characters in English, such as the conversation between Yukari and her friend, and the speech patterns of the father and the uncle.

Eika: the most creative part of the whole process to me, was when we wrote out our initial translations. I generally would think about what the bare bones of the dialogue was, then mold it to the way the speaker said the line, then what would sound best in the scenario. Although this process carried over to the group translations, the first attempt at switching languages was truly the most creative part for me. It was a blank canvas where we could attempt to make it into whatever we interpreted the dialogue to mean.

Yena: For me, the most creativity applied was when there is not a direct translation in English for the Japanese word. For example, to me,「うん」can have a lot of translations — it is more of an expression of the attitude or feeling of the person who says it (combining with the context). Besides that, I think translating what also has cultural meaning takes up creativity, too. Without explaining what something is in a certain culture might cause confusion in the audience, while explaining it might add a lot more words to the subtitle and the audience might not have time to read it. Therefore, it is crucial to think about what the audience absolutely needs to know and find a balance between the length of the translation and the information that needs to be delivered.

Quinn: The whole translation process demanded a ton of creativity. On an individual level, I think just writing our own, preliminary translations took a lot of effort, because those are what served as the foundation for the rest of the project. On a group level, choosing and sometimes combining multiple translations required a lot of creativity and flexibility.