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Translators’ Sense of Time

There is always something that awaits translation companies and translators. Yes, the deadly “deadline.” Sometimes the deadline is tight, too tight, and we have to work hard without stopping. The translation industry often requires speed over quality, and this often depends on the country and the culture of the client.

Not just us, but all professions are controlled and directed by deadlines.

You may want to lock the door and hide if a client tries to squeeze an “urgent” job into your already busy schedule.

Today, I’d like to talk about the “time” that is common to all of us, whether it be in our business or private lives.

The translator’s destiny is to keep running

In China, Ghana, and now in Japan, I used to wake up at 6 am, drink a glass of water, get dressed, and jog for about an hour. I grew tired of running on the same road, so I found about three different routes, and I would run a different one every day depending on my mood.

In Japan, the reported number of people jogging is around 9.5 million (However, this number is for people who jog more than once a year. I think there are fewer people who actually run.).

I don’t mean to compare myself to someone so famous, but it is well known that Mr. Haruki Murakami is a regular runner. In the same way, he sees the running as a “must-do” - something that needs to happen whether you feel like writing a novel or not. In an essay, he says “writing and jogging are similar as they are both must-do things. For me as well, “translation” and “running” are in fact not opposite but actually on the same line.

Know your lap time and pace

“Running” and “translating” actually have a lot in common. In fact, we often think about the task of translation through the act of running. I gain a new awareness of “translating” by trying to control my breathing and “running” while staring at Chinese text on the computer monitor.

For example, runners and translators have a very similar sense of time. Freelance translation is all about speed. When I get a job, the first thing I often think about is “How long will this take?’ and “How many words are there?”

Of course, it is necessary to ensure quality, but no matter how high quality a translation is, if it does not meet the deadline specified by the client, the job is not complete.

Therefore, make sure you have enough time to get it done by the deadline and figure out how many characters you need to translate per hour. Just as with jogging, you need to calculate how fast you should run to reach your goal on time.

Even if I start running and realize that I’m struggling one morning, I just tell myself that I have to keep that pace because I’m already in motion.

A mysterious thing about running and translating is that the pace gradually gets better. In both cases, it is important to maintain a certain cadence. While running, you may want to decrease your pace at times, but if you concentrate on your breathing and the sound of your shoes striking the ground, you can create a polyrhythm and keep going. When that happens, you will be able to move forward without worrying about time, engaging your mental autopilot. When you attain this state, you will not be particularly concerned about time or pace.

From the starting dash to the runner’s high

This is what I’m aiming for in translation as well. Even if you don’t have to worry about deadlines or how many words you’ve translated in an hour, it is ideal to achieve a state of focus and speed. It may sound a little exaggerated, but you need to enter a “flow state.”

The state of flow is a concept put forward by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and is defined as “a sense of being completely absorbed and energetically focused on what is being done at that time.” It is also said that when people enter this mental state, their sense of time changes and distorts. Later, when looking back at the experience, it seems that time has passed very quickly.

We tend to think of time as something objective that flows in the same way for everyone. However, this is not the case; it is shown to be a rather subjective experience for people. The sense of time depends on the individual. It also depends on WHEN you think of the moment: in the past, present, or future. The same amount of time can easily feel too short or too long.

The ideal way for translators to interact with time is to first think about how many words can be completed in a certain "box" of time. The second is to immerse oneself into that timeframe to create a state of work "flow.” Finally, it is important to reflect on that bygone time and feel a deep sense of fulfillment.


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Born in Japan and moved to China in 2008. After studying the Chinese language in Chengdu, Sichuan province, Kawai deepened his learning in Hunan and Jiangsu provinces through close interaction with locals. Currently staying in Ghana and making his endeavor to English and local Twi languages.

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