Translating video games when you’re a native English speaker Where Triston shares controversial views on translating into and from your native language.

Greater than 5 minutes, my friend!

This is a short follow-up to my last post on video game translation trends for 2017. Jane Davis had an interesting question about finding work as a video game translator that I thought would try to answer. She says:



I saw this as an opportunity to cause some trouble, so here we go!

There are some languages that are going to be harder to work in than others. Being an ES>EN translator myself, I’d put myself somewhere closer to the “developers throw money at me” than the “I’m pretty sure I’m the only person that speaks my language” side of the scale. There are some very skilled Spanish speaking developers out there, but most of them already speak a good deal of English (thanks a lot, CS:GO and LoL…) and only occasionally need a full translation of their game. So, how do you make money when the developers already speak your language? You speak it better 😉

Or you cheat.

First off, editing or adapting game text for certain regions can bring in some decent work and a good editor is always appreciated. In fact, that’s where most my income came from (before I started messing around with search engine optimization). I was also “randomly” invited to a TON of early access games, like The Elder Scrolls Online, a few World of Warcraft expansions (I might even be a NPC!), WildStar, and Star Wars: The Old Republic (I work on a lot of MMORPGs).

Now, for translation, I typically charge between $0.15 and $0.30 per word. For editing like this, I charge around $0.06 per word. While that’s significantly less money per unit, I can get through a text four or five times faster than I can with a translation – depending on the quality of the material. In the end, I still make money and the client has a clean translation for their game. So, that’s one way to get around source language problems as long as there’s enough demand for gaming in your target language.

Horror Story from the Battlefield

I was once working on editing a good-sized MMORPG from Korea. The NPCs often referred to another NPC, but the translators kept switching their pronouns around. In one sentence the character was male, then female, then back to male. Sometimes in the same sentence! Now, I don’t speak Korean, so the source text, even if I’d had access to it, wouldn’t have helped. I emailed my client and asked if they had any sort of directory or guide to the game that would identify the character’s sex. They didn’t. They asked the developer, never heard back from them. So, they paid me an extra three days’ worth of work to play through the game, find the NPC, and look at the character model to identify its sex. It was female, just in case you were wondering. I’m just glad that it was a human character or this story would be even longer! Praise the sun!

They also kept using “penetrate” instead of “infiltrate” whenever they had to sneak into an enemy base. Silly Korean translators.

Finding this kind of work is very similar to normal translation work – it’s all about building relationships with the developers. If you have a relationship with your developer, and they need help or know someone else that needs help, you’ll be at the top of their list. It’s just a question of having enough relationships with the right developers. You’ll also become one of the experts in your field, so clients will naturally come to you.

I would suggest making an account on (don’t misspell that), which is a neat resource for those looking for work in the gaming industry and mention it in your LinkedIn profiles and website. Don’t forget to keep your eyes on the Facebook groups, either.


Now, to cause trouble…

I think it’s ok to translate into a language that isn’t your native language.

This baby is the funniest meme on the internet.

Now, I think that there are some very specific things that need to happen before this, so let me explain:

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, to be a good translator, and especially a good video game translator, you need to be able to understand two languages and communicate in two others. One pair is your source and target language, that one’s obvious. The second is your industry lingo in your source and target languages. We often criticize those that thing that simply speaking two languages is enough to qualify them as a translator. The same can happen here. Just because someone is a native speaker of the target language doesn’t necessarily mean that they are better qualified to translate something. An industry expert working in his or her 2nd language is almost always going to be better than a native that has no idea what they’re talking about. Like me trying to work on any medical texts. Additionally, I think that there are cases where having a deeper understanding of source text, its nuances, allegories, and so on, like a native speaker would have, leads to a better translation. I have translated games into Spanish. I also always have a native speaker editor double check everything for me. Heck, I do that with English translations, too.

In my opinion, the ideal setup for a translation would be to have two translators working on each project, a native speaker of the source to make it accurate, and a native speaker of the target to make it fluid and natural. You just miss out on too many opportunities otherwise. It’s also twice as expensive, so I understand why agencies don’t do it. My wife, from Argentina, used to work with me as a translator and together we were able to create some truly beautiful translations. Now she just wants to make websites for translators.

So, if you can only find work into your target language, find yourself a good editor that’s willing to help you out and make a team. Those projects can go both ways, too. Your partner edits your translation today, and tomorrow you do the same for them.

In regards the question about LocJam, while winning the competition is certainly a nice bit of bragging rights, I would argue that the most valuable part of the entire event is the experience that you obtain by translating an entire game. You don’t have to show your translations to your potential clients unless you want to, you can just tell them that you participate and talk about some of the things that you found interesting or how you overcame some challenge during the process.

I hope that helps, though. And I appreciate the question 😊

And, worst case scenario, we can always learn Korean and find work that way, right? I mean, how hard can it be?

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Triston Goodwin

About Triston Goodwin

2 thoughts on “Translating video games when you’re a native English speaker Where Triston shares controversial views on translating into and from your native language.

  1. I agree that the LocJam experience should be mostly about “the journey” 🙂 As to the collaboration between a source language native speaker and a target language one, I am afraid it is unfeasible 99% of the time, as you say. I think a translator should reach that quality level where the source language speaker is not to be missed nor their absence felt at all, if you know what I mean. Still, I will concede that, in contexts such as the one you described, their presence would make a huge difference!

    1. Yeah, I know… I was spoiled to work with my wife, who worked in my reverse pair. We actually did the same thing while I worked in-house, so I guess that’s where my preference comes from.

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