Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tales of Graces and JLPT

Thursday was the feast of Epiphany, aka Twelfth Night in England and Reyes (Kings) here in Spain. Yesterday there were piles of boxes that had been salvaged from presents beside the rubbish containers in the street. (By tradition, presents are given on Reyes and not at Christmas.) Among them I noticed a good number of pakagings from video games and others from the technology for playing them. We've learnt that our friends' children don't ask the Three Kings for toys, books and board games any more; they want interactive video games. Localised in Spanish of course.

Tales is a series of Japanese video games that's been going on since 1995. So far 12 have been released but the manufacturer has only localised nine of them for the American market, because of "the amount of dialog and the extensive voice acting in recent games." That doesn't satisfy the most ardent fans, especially as the latest release, Tales of Graces, is said to be the best in the series. So the fans have set up a Tales of Graces Fan Translation project with the aim of eventually producing an English patch for the game themselves.
"The translation team consists of five translators who have done the bulk of the translation, as well as about 10 others who help to contribute from time to time... for many of the translators, this is their first time working on a project like this. They are volunteering their time because of their passion for the game, and a desire to allow everyone to be able to experience and enjoy it."
Apparently there was a bad experience in the past with translating one of these games. This time the team is taking due care.
"Much of the initial translation is already done. However, everything still needs to go through a translation verification to ensure accuracy. They don’t want any, 'All your base are belong to us' situations."
It's a big project:
"The team estimates there are 90,000 lines to be translated... Basically, that’s any time text is on the screen, and a line can range from a single word to an entire paragraph."
So they're looking for more volunteer translators, but not just any bilinguals: JLPT level 3 required and level 2 greatly preferred.

Which brings us to JLPT.

JLPT stands for Japanese Language Proficiency Test. It's an officially sponsored exam designed to evaluate the Japanese of non-native speakers.
"The JLPT was first held in 1984 in response to growing demand for standardized Japanese language certification... In 2004, the JLPT was offered in 40 countries, including Japan. The number of candidates continued to rise to 559,056 in 2008, while the percentage of candidates certified has fallen below 36%."
There are five levels, with N1 being the highest level and N5 the easiest. Therefore, the video game translation team is asking for high-middle to high level, but not the highest.

However, what's most interesting from our point of view is that JLPT is not a translation test. It tests various components of language proficiency (reading, listening, grammar, vocabulary) but not translating. Hence there is an implied assumption that second-language proficiency, together with close acquaintance with the source content – since the call is to fans – is a good predictor of translation 'proficiency' into the first language without further training. Anyway for want of a better correlate.

Another assumption – by no means new – is that, given the required language proficiency, background knowledge, a checking procedure and plenty of time, the translation of such a game can be done by untrained Native Translators to the satisfaction of highly critical users. As more projects like the Tales of Graces one are launched, more bilingual fans are discovering that they too can translate and can render a service to their gaming compatriots by doing so. What the instigators and coordinators of such projects need is a realistic Guide to Managing Inexperienced Translators.

Brandon Fenty. Tales of Grace English translation coming this year. Ripten Video Game Blog, January 2, 2011.

Japanese Language Proficiency Test. In Wikipedia. December 2010.

Image: Game Rant

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