Games Business

Game Translator Guide: How To Become A Video Games Translator

Photograph of the blog post author, Tom Steel

Tom Steel

4.8.2021

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The video game industry has become a huge unstoppable force over the past few year. With a staggering amount of different work opportunities, each as vital as the next, in continuing this upward surge. Most of the attention goes towards those who actually make the games, from coding to level design, music to testing. However, there are some roles that fly under the radar and sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve. One of those roles is in video game translation as the video game translator.

In this article, we will dive into what a game translator is, what they do, what skills they need to have, how to go about getting such a job and how much money the role can make.

Stay tuned and read on, especially if you’re interested in video games and the application of language translation.

What Is A Game Translator?

game translator

A game translator is someone who works to help a game with its global appeal.

They do this by ensuring that any text or speech instances within the game are translated from their initial language into many other languages.

This allows people to enjoy the content on a global scale, in their own native language. 

What Does A Game Translator Do?

As mentioned above, a game translator is responsible for translating any or every aspect of a game from one language into another. This can be anything from in-game subtitles to menu and settings language. 

Whatever it is, it needs to be translated perfectly; accounting for a direct word-for-word translation not making complete sense. Ultimately ensuring that the player’s experience doesn’t change from language to language.

As a video games translator, you will be pointed in the direction of appropriate game translation tools, or translation tools in general. You will learn that tools like Google translate, are not the way forward.

As well as language proficiency, a game translator should have and be able to exercise their gaming passion and knowledge. They must do this while applying appropriate methodology and techniques to their work. 

Work With Other Languages

game bad translation

To restate the main task in video game translation, language is the main focus. Proficiency and fluency in a native language and one or more additional languages will help speed the process up. 

Further knowledge of cultures and cultural differences will help a translator in avoiding the pitfalls of mistranslation and censorship. 

Written and reading skills for the languages in question must be flawless, as they are the main muscles being flexed.

Apply Their Gaming Passion & Knowledge

mission accomplished game

Although a video game translator may not actually get to play the games on the job as one might expect. This may change with some jobs but that would normally be left to game testers, they are expected to have a passion for games.

A passion for specific games could also come in handy, offering more and enhanced context when working on a translation. 

This also leads to specialization within a specific genre, with specialized and appropriate vocabulary needing to be learned and applied. 

Some translators may even focus on a specific genre, in order to become more proficient and more of an expert. Gaming terminology, in general, can also be useful and can be drawn from years of gaming.

Apply Appropriate Methodology To Maintain Accuracy & Performance

video game

In video game translation, a translator is meticulous and needs to be a careful proof-reader. With an exceptional eye for detail, helping to maintain maximum accuracy.

Using appropriate reference material is a must, in an attempt to avoid mistakes with game-specific names and terminology.

Keeping ahead of schedule and being prepared to meet deadlines is one of the most important things in translation. With games and departments have bigger deadlines to meet. Any delay is potentially catastrophic.

Increase Efficiency With Exceptional Technique

video game making

There’s the language proficiency, the passion for gaming, the methodology. Then there’s the technique required to actually get the job done. 

Being a fast-typer and knowing all the relevant keyboard shortcuts will reduce the time you take per project greatly. It will boost your daily productivity immensely. 

Knowing what tools you need is also imperative, with spellcheckers or other grammar tools flagging up any rare typing mistakes.

Being creative enough to apply all of this in a fun and exciting way, while maintaining the correct tone and meanings within the original texts, are the true demands of the job.

Keep A Healthy Mindset To Achieve Success

bad game translation

The ability to meet deadlines is greatly important. But the flexibility to adapt to schedule changes for whatever reason is a must for any translator.

Translators must obviously be proficient in working by themselves. But they also need to be able to use feedback. Not only better themselves but to offer advice to others or to contribute to glossaries. 

Basically, being a good team player is also a valuable trait for a translator to have.

The day-to-day work as a translator can be as simple in the premise as getting an assignment from a client and working to accurately translate it within a given timeframe.

It may sound simple enough on paper, but it is another thing entirely in practice. The ability to do this job well must be learned and nurtured, and we will now look at how to become a game translator in the first place.

How To Become A Video Games Translator

The first main thing to consider is that you need to be proficient in at least one language, in addition to your native tongue.

This instantly puts non-native English speakers at an advantage. Generally speaking, English is taught around the world to children at a young age.

It is naturally one of the most commonly used around the world, behind Spanish and Mandarin. 

There are ways to obtain language and other valuable skills that involve qualifications but there are also those that don’t.

What Qualifications Do You Need To Be A Game Translator?

college translation course

A university degree in any foreign language seems to be the best route to go down.

In many cases, this would also require certain A-Levels or equivalent grades with relevant languages to get onto these degree courses, but not always.

Language degrees will often be 4 or 5 years in length with the chance to study or work abroad for a year of that. 

Within the whole course, many modules will be offered and covered. From extensive learning of the language itself to its history and its culture to varying types of translation. 

Learning a language is often difficult in itself. But being able to translate according to certain requirements, conditions and contexts is a valuable skill to have.

Keeping any good-quality translations as a part of a portfolio would also do no harm.

A degree in Game Design is another possibility. It will give you knowledge in the actual gaming side of the industry you want to break into.

This would look good on any CV. However, you would have to consider at least taking classes or additional modules in a language. This is to increase your employability after graduation.

How To Become A Game Translator Without Qualifications

duolingo

It isn’t always held in as high a regard as earning a language degree, but you can always take private classes or teach yourself through the internet, books and apps like Duolingo.

Everyone works at different paces, and this especially holds true with learning a language.

Most people know about the platform, Steam, with most PC gamers buying their games via it. Steam actually holds their own game translation contests, which require you to set aside half an hour to an hour of your time to take and pass a small test.

Passing the test to a good standard will give you access to game translation offers, albeit for free work to begin with.

Although volunteer work isn’t always ideal in this day and age, not only would you already have your foot in the door with the particular company you’re with, but it’s also something to add to your CV.

Especially if you can bring together a portfolio of work from the experience. Other places are also likely to allow or actively search for interns or game translation assistants.

Having a decent level of language proficiency, a portfolio of translations and proof of volunteer work should stand you in great stead when searching for a video games translator job, and having a degree on top of that would just be icing on top of the cake for any employer.

Alternatively, there’s always the possibility of getting a job elsewhere in the gaming industry, perhaps at an entry-level, giving you that extra bit of credibility for when you do try to make the switch to game translation. 

This would potentially require just as much preparation to get into the initial job, however, so it might be too much just for a stop-gap.

Where To Find Video Game Translation Jobs

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Finding a job in this field can sometimes be as easy as searching online and visiting game jobs.

The fact that this particular role is translation-focused, means that you don’t necessarily have to limit your search to firms based in the UK, instead you can broaden your search and browse both local and foreign places. 

Alternatively, the usual job-searching methods can be particularly useful, like using your LinkedIn account to stand out and advertise yourself for this specific role.

This sort of approach could possibly flag the attention of a game translation agency, so it’s worth doing.

If you are looking to go down the freelance road, there are a number of site and translation portals online. Here, you can register, set up an account and start looking for appropriate projects. 

Game Translator Salary

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Entering into the industry with a relevant university degree, proficient language skills and plenty of ability in the other areas will make you an ideal candidate for most game translator jobs. 

At the rate that the gaming industry has been growing, salaries will be competitive. 

The amount to be earned is likely to differ from company to company. But one thing is certain, there is ample opportunity to progress and earn more, the more experience you gain.

In the UK, in-house translators earn an average starting salary between £18,000 and £21,000 per year, with experienced roles normally earning more than £30,000.

While this is a modest estimation compared to certain opportunities within translation, at the very least, it is a steady salary. Freelance translation is a different ball game entirely. 

Not only do you have the pressure and responsibility as a self-employed business owner, but your earnings can essentially vary from as little as £10,000 per year to as much as £100,000.

This is all dependent on your work ethic, efficiency and the clients you work with.

For specifically game translators, statistics in the US from this year suggest that the 25th percentile of game translator salaries in the US are at $27,500, the 75th percentile at $63,500 and the 90th percentile at $109,000. This all roughly equates to £20,000, £46,000 and £79,000 respectively.

The fact of the matter is that there are lots of uncertainties with being a video game translator.

However, the best thing you can do is put in the work and be as prepared as possible, be willing to work tirelessly to achieve your goals but also meticulous and accuracy-conscious, and those bigger sums may not be as unachievable as they seem.

More On Freelancing

The uncertainty and unpredictability that may surround freelance translation may be rather unappealing.

However, it’s worth noting that with considerable patience and hard work, the job situation could become better and more stable than an in-house career could’ve been. 

This, with the added bonus of having so much more freedom to work whenever and wherever you want, will seem appealing to many who just want to have their destiny in their own hands. 

Now You Know How To Be A Game Translator

witcher 3 translation

From everything here in this article, you should now have more of an idea of what a video game translator is, what skills they need to have, how to start on the path to becoming one and how much you could earn. 

There is still a fair amount of uncertainty when it comes to this sort of job, but putting in a lot of work to prepare sufficiently to not only get the job as a game translator, but to thrive in it, should reap its rewards in the long run. Good luck!

Are you a game translator? How did you get to where you are? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below. If you enjoyed this article, why not share it on your socials? Be sure to tag us in your post @musicgateway! 

If you enjoyed this article, why not check out another on our blog? Here are articles on How To Become A Game Journalist, How To Become A Professional Gamer and How To Become A Level Designer to get you started!

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