Recently, there was a news post here at MH that cross-posted a well written article by Pomax
in which he spoke about the history of improper English in manga and fan translations. This sparked some discussion, and I felt that the discussion needed a nice response from the administration here at MH before we moved on to what we CAN do about this problem, or if we can even call it MH’s problem.What exactly is the problem?
I’d like to start off by defining the problem we are dealing with. If you’ve already read the previous article then you can probably skip this section as you are already aware, but I’m going to summarize what Pomax said. The English used in many scanlations these days is not in fact English, but a sort of hybrid English using English words, but not what anyone would ever really say in a real life situation. The problem with this is that it has lowered many readers’ expectations as to what to expect when they read manga, and has supposedly had a bad influence on official manga releases.
One thing I’d like to point out before moving on is that this problem is not entirely accurate. The problem mainly manifests itself in the world of speed scanlations where release speed is the key, and not quality. If the group is going for speed, will they really care if the translation they use is not completely proofed, revised, and mostly finished? No, probably not. Is there anything we at MH can feasibly do about this? I don’t believe so, but I would love to be proved otherwise. Anything that adds red tape and bureaucracy to the process of posting a translation to the public will only annoy both readers and the translators who post them.
Let’s face it, most people would rather read their favorite manga sooner rather than later, right? Anyway, now that we know what the problem is, let’s play the blame game.Who is really at fault for the current state of English in scanlations?
Most fingers lay firmly pointed at random guy with one year of Japanese under his belt trying his best to translate his favorite series for the masses. To be honest? That was me five or more years ago. The very first manga I translated was Naruto for one of the first few speed scanlation groups (Bakafish) to hop on the series. Some people may remember that, some people may not. Regardless, I was translating a series I loved at the time out of love for the series. The response to our little team picking up the series and releasing a little more quickly than the current team scanlating was lukewarm to somewhat happy. I’m fairly certain the English I used back then would fall under the whole “not exactly English” category as well, but we never received any comments about that since it was mostly understandable.
Where am I going with this? My point is that the audience never complained about slightly weird English issues. They didn’t decide to not read our scanlations because the English was weird. Most of the complaints we got were about the scan quality. If there had been more complaints about the English I used back then, you can be sure I would have tried to fix it to the best of my abilities. I like to think I’ve grown as a translator since then, but the audience has not changed. If you’ve read this far then you likely do care about the quality of the English used in your scanlations, but being the cynic that I am I can’t imagine anyone who stopped reading several paragraphs ago actually caring that much about what I have to say. I’m pretty sure most of MH’s userbase didn’t even read the first sentence of this post.
Now that’s the cynic in me talking, and I would love to be wrong.
The point here is that the translators aren’t entirely at fault. If the audience doesn’t care enough to point out weird English sentence structures, then the translators might be less likely to improve in future chapters. Both parties end up being at fault here. I’m not so sure I want to blame someone who’s just started translating with little to no experience in the field though. Translating isn’t exactly something you can just do well from day one.What can MH do about this problem?
Well, the main solution that has been put forward is one of instituting some sort of proofreading team. I’m not so sure this is the end-all-be-all solution to our problems, but it does have its merits in helping translators to improve. But once again, the main problem here is speed scanlations, which brings us back to audience apathy. Will adding in proofreaders honestly help with this problem that much?
Translator A posts his translation to Shounen Jump series B. Speed scanlation group C uses the translation right as it is posted and copy-pastes the translation before the proofreaders even have a chance to take a good look at the translation. Audience is generally pleased.
I won’t deny that proofreaders will help in the long run as the translator starts to get more experience, noticing their own mistakes since he or she has had the experience of being told that something is in fact a mistake. That sort of experience is invaluable in our line of work when we’re just starting out. It even helps those of us who have been doing this for a while. Everyone makes mistakes.
There is also another problem with this. Where are all these magical proofreaders with perfect English supposed to come from? The staff here at MH is stretched fairly thin as is, whether it’s with their own lives or the work that needs to be done here at MH. A lot of our staff (despite their remarkable skills in English) are also non-native speakers. Proofreaders don’t just appear by the dozen with endless amounts of time and an insatiable lust to proofread manga at our behest.
That’s where you come in. Yep, you. If you’re a native English speaker and you read the translations before they’re on speed scanlations, someone who doesn’t like the quality of translations these days, or someone who hates MH because they don’t police translations, I’m talking to you. You don’t have to proofread a whole translation. Just, if you notice something that doesn’t exactly sound correct then make a comment about it on the translation for the translator. Every time you do that, it will likely help the translator to improve in the future.
I say that because in all actuality, MH is a community of volunteers. We, the staff, can’t do everything by ourselves. The staff doesn’t post every translation you see on this site, the large majority are posted by members. The same goes for scanlations. The only reason MH has grown to what it is today is because we have some awesome members.
Another solution that was raised included the rating of translations or ranking translators by experience or through a series of tests. Rating systems lead to people questioning why they got a certain rating and general unhappiness if you continually receive low to mediocre ratings. This would also lead to a classification of “bad” translators. Some people might not want to continue if they fall under that classification even if they try to improve. We’re not here to make people quit because they think they’re bad at translating, we’re here to help them get better at what they want to do. Ranking translators through tests is practically the same, and experience isn’t always a good indicator as well. A somewhat lazy translator could do several hundred translations without ever trying to improve.
On top of the problems with rating systems and tests, there’s also the fact that the staff at MH would have to create the rating system and all the tests, enforce them, and take flak for certain decisions regarding who gets what rating. That’s a lot of overhead for something that users will decide for themselves based on just reading the translation and talking about it in the discussion threads. Also, that’s a lot of extra work for our already overworked staff. We’d probably have to bring more volunteers on to help with something like that.This post is too long. Can we stop now?
I was thinking the same thing. The main reason for this is to point out that while a lot of the suggestions have their merits, MH implementing any of them would create a lot of extra work and bureaucracy for everyone involved, and that takes a lot of fun out of the process of translating. I would love to see proofreaders coming out of the woodworks to help translators improve the quality of their translations, but I’m not holding my breath. I was hoping to steer the conversation away from that and into a hopefully different direction. Something more community-based with translators helping each other would be a nice suggestion for a change.
NJT plans to start something more along these lines where we don't rely too much on a person or a single group of people to resolve the current issue. For starters he's running this series of news posts about translation quality to encourage people to more actively seek help (or more actively give help) on translations. It's not going to be a drastic huge immediate fix because let's face it, there really won't be any such thing, but it will be a start.
*Note to translators: If you don’t want people to proof your work then let them know. Also, just because someone doesn’t speak Japanese doesn’t mean they’re not going to be a good proofreader. I personally think someone with no knowledge of Japanese is going to be more apt to point out when something sounds weird than someone who knows the language well. And lastly, remember, this is all to help everyone here improve. There’s always room for improvement.