Meet Isabelle: Our Japanese-German Translator

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Q: Tell us about yourself! Why did you want to learn Japanese?

A: My name is Isabelle, I am 30 years old and I work as a translator (both Japanese and English to German), mainly in the gaming or entertainment field. The question of why I wanted to learn Japanese is not that easy for me to answer.

I have always been interested in learning new languages. In school I started with English, of course, and later I also took Spanish and Latin classes. After school I decided not to pursue linguistic academics, fearing I would lose the passion for my dearest hobby when having to work with it every day, which I later learned was an unfounded fear.

During my studies of Horticultural Sciences (which I turned to, instead of English studies or similar language programs), one evening I stumbled upon a video on YouTube, that taught Japanese Hiragana, one of the alphabets of the Japanese writing system. I was curious, watched it, and suddenly, found myself learning half of the alphabet that very evening.

I was fascinated by how this works, while being so different from the languages I had known so far, be it in terms of grammar, writing system, expressing thoughts or also the melody of the language. I never had much to do with Japan or the Japanese language, but this one random video sparked my curiosity and the more Japanese I learned the more I wanted to know not only about the language, but also about the culture and the people living there. it was a “vicious circle”, in the best possible way.

My passion for Japanese was so extensive, that I decided to dedicate all my time to it and study it full time at University, including spending six months abroad in Japan and working with it in a real-time living context.

Still, it remains one of the best decisions I have ever made. Japanese can be challenging, but you grow with your tasks and the reward, when you can use it out in the “wild” of everyday life, is an absolutely great feeling!

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Q: We know you have worked on game localizations before. Can you tell us what it’s like to localize a Japanese game for German speakers? Any fun stories?

A: Especially in games, we often have to work with strict character limitations for translations, to make dialogue or item name fit in the box on the screen. German is known for “having many letters” and so this can sometimes be a really frustrating task. Shortening item names can be difficult, because we always strive to carry over all the information from the original term into the target language, but sometimes simply shortening is not enough. When the original term consists of four Japanese characters and you have to fit the translation of “Cursed flame sword of the demon king” in a tiny text box… the required linguistic gymnastics become obvious.

Another thing, that is often challenging, is to handle Japanese cultural terms. When Japanese go to a “Konbini” to grab a “Bento”, it is always a question of the audience, if these words should be translated or not. Someone who is interested in Japan and watches, for example, anime on a regular basis, probably knows these terms and appreciates them untranslated for their authenticity. But someone who has never dipped a toe into the vast sea of Japanese culture might be a bit clueless when he or she gets confronted with these things.

These are only two examples; game translation really never gets boring. You can have many different genres, in different settings, with different characters, who all have their own individual way of speaking. There are so many factors that make every project new and exciting.

Q: We all know it’s been an unusual year. How are you dealing with being in lockdown? Do you have any advice that you would like to share with others to help them get through this difficult time?

A: Many things have changed over the last year. When it comes to my work, I am working in my home office over the internet regardless, and in this aspect, not much has changed for me personally. But of course, as soon as I leave the house, I feel the changes, as well when I speak to family and friends. These are really challenging times, but as I already mentioned above, we grow with our tasks. And if we stay positive and take care of each other and act thoughtfully, I am sure we can very soon call COVID-19 the past and enjoy time together with our dear ones.

Q: Last but not least, what are your wishes for 2021? Anything you want to say to our deer learners?

A: My biggest wish for 2021 would be that everyday life goes back to normal, with normal problems and normal spare time activities. I really miss going to that one Japanese restaurant close by with my friends and I also miss traveling. But even if we have to deal with these challenging circumstances for a little longer, we should always stay positive and make the best out of our time at home. Why not use the opportunity to learn a new language? I can recommend Japanese, it is actually fun and rewarding!

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