Three Tips for Rooting out the Best Localization and Translation Staff

When distributing a game in a foreign country, you have two choices: hire a localization company, or do the work in house. 

Square Enix, Capcom and many large-scale publishers have in-house localization staff and don’t have to worry about this sort of thing, but most game companies don’t have multiple multilingual employees, which means they need to outsource the work.

However, as you’d expect, depending on the people in charge, they feel it’s better to do things in house when considering the conveniences of managing quality and information, handling the subject matter, and scheduling. There are also cases where they’re unable to outsource the job before managing the source code. There are plenty of reasons why localization might need to be done inhouse. 

In this article I’ll be going over how to find qualified, talented localization staff.

Three Tips for Rooting out the Best Localization And Translation Staff 】
1. Experience (and not native ability) is what Matters 
2. Look for Professionals, not Otaku 
3. Trials Before Hiring!
・ Native Language Test 
・ Game Terminology Trial 
・ Localization Tool Trial 
・ Translation Trial 
4. Bonus: When Outsourcing, use Companies, not Individuals 

1. Experience (and not native ability) is what Matters

Localization and translation are both professions.

All Chinese people born in China can speak Chinese. That doesn’t mean they can do Chinese localization.

Even now people will claim they can do game translation just because they speak the language; but that is greatly underestimating the craft of localization.  

Having a little experience localizing does not mean you can do localization, just like someone who can cook can’t necessarily go work as a chef.

It’s a plain truth that most localization/translation staff in Japanese companies nowadays have not received any formal training, they’re just fans of Japanese media. 

To expand on this, most Europeans and Americans know if they come to Japan, they can find a job teaching English. The concept has been around for a while. 

Foreigners in Japan who want to escape those English teaching jobs are flocking to localization and translation jobs. The reality is, there aren’t many hurdles to get into the industry. 

There are of course people who gain experience, accumulate knowledge about games, and become localization experts. But fundamentally, it’s just a bunch of amateurs. 

Therefore one hint when searching for employees: check their experience.

What titles have they been in charge of? This is vital. When looking to hire, keep in mind that whatever college they studied Japanese at is meaningless (Think of all the Japanese people who can’t use English, despite going to a foreign language university).

What really matters is a portfolio, and experience.

This includes ascertaining whether said experience is real. It’s a good idea to contact the producers of the titles written on a candidate’s resume before the interview (or at the interview). You’ll notice a trend towards exaggeration on resumes. For example, claiming they localized something when in reality they were only a small part of the process. Keep an eye out for this and always dig beneath the surface.

(When you’re digging, make sure you mention this to the candidate.) 

2. Look for Professionals, not Otaku

Many game publishers are introduced to potential employees from a network of already employed foreign staff, but in my experience, this is definitely NOT a good idea.

(Of course there is a chance you’ll be introduced to someone very talented, but there’s no proof of this.)

In general, foreigners in Japan are, as stated above, “otaku.” It might sound extreme to say, but to purposefully come all the way to Japan requires a certain amount of enthusiasm.

This means that “work” is not the number one reason people come to Japan. An overwhelming percentage is just there for Japanese media, so finding a real professional, and not just a fan, should be a priority.

Foreigners, and not Japanese people, are the ones who repeat the phrase “I’m a huge fan of your company’s work!” like a mantra during interviews. As if getting hired has anything to do with how much of a fan you are.

3. Trials Before Hiring! 

A trial is a sort of test you give someone before hiring them. If you’re not already giving potential employees tests before hiring, you definitely should.  

・Native Language Test

The balance between “Japanese language ability” and “native language ability” is very important.

Japanese ability can be judged during the interview, and some companies require a Japanese test, but it is necessary to go a step further and do a native language test. 

For example, Chinese translators would take a Chinese test. 

Just because people are native to a language doesn’t mean they can write novels, or that they have any sort of literary talent. Native English, Chinese, and Spanish speakers are not masters of the language just because they grew up speaking it. 

Another important point is that this hypothetical Chinese test should not be reviewed by in-house Chinese localizers. That should be done by an objective third party from a different company. 

Unbiased feedback is a must. You can’t be sure whether already employed foreigners have the capability to judge the test. Having another company review the test won’t even cost $100, so I highly recommend it. 


Game Terminology Trial

Consider this as well: Confirming whether potential candidates have specialized knowledge relating to different platforms (for example, the Nintendo Lot Check, Sony’s TRC, etc.). If they’re in the localization industry and don’t even have that basic knowledge, to be frank, they’re not a localization expert, and you shouldn’t employ them.


Localization Tool Trial

You should always ask what localization tools they can use, and what tools they own

If they have no experience using Trados, MemoQ, or Wordfast, you can expect their knowledge about glossary consistency to be low (or none).

The reason you should ask what tool they own is because everyone will claim that they’ve used them before. Have them share their license numbers. These tools are pricey, no less than $1,000.There are many localization professionals who don’t have these tools, but it’s like being a designer and not having Adobe products like Illustrator.

If they’re a localization professional, they will definitely have the tools of their trade.


Translation Trial

In order to measure a potential candidate’s speed before they’re hired (after the interview, etc.), have them come to the company for a day to do a translation trial. You’ll have to pay them, but it’ll be worth it. See if they can translate 4,000 to 5,000 characters (from Japanese) in 8 hours without a dictionary. This is a necessity.

It’s said that a Japanese translator can only translate 2,500 characters a day, but this isn’t true. Rather, it’s a story from a different era.

Back in the day, Japanese translations to German, or French, etc., would be done in a word processor. They’d have to use printed dictionaries and reference materials. The average for essay translations was 2,500 characters a day. These days, for game translation, not essays, 5,000 characters a day is the norm. 

If you’re translating an RPG with 1,000,000 characters, you won’t finish if you’re slow. Just like programming, translating is about quality AND speed. 

That’s why a translation trial is a must.

4. Bonus: When Outsourcing, Hire Companies, not Individuals

Everything I’ve mentioned so far has been fairly rudimentary. In a future article I’ll dive deeper into exactly what questions to ask, what to look for, and more when hiring localizers and translators. 

On a related note, we do, of course have in-house professionals at AGM. We have to, but it’s common for normal game publishers to find it difficult to judge the abilities of multilingual people, and their choices can be hit or miss. 

Furthermore, even if you do find excellent staff, there are inherent problems with hiring foreigners in Japan. For example, they might need to return home for family emergencies, or apply for long vacations at the wrong time, or find Japanese medicine doesn’t work properly for them.

So then what’s the solution? I think the ideal (when hiring) is to only employ professional editors, in other words, LQA professionals, and outsource for everything else. Of course, this is just my personal preference. 

And, when outsourcing, it’s better to use companies rather than freelancers or individual translators. The reasons become obvious when you consider potential problems in the work process, like issues with maintaining confidentiality and protecting the privacy of the work.

AGM outsources to other vendors as well. 

When I was working at other companies, I saw the pros and cons of both in-house staff and outsourcing. In conclusion, if you simply make the correct choice when choosing who you outsource to, you can guarantee quality, get the job done fast, and ensure the producers don’t need to waste their time.

Related Article : 5 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Localization Company
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