Interview with Rebecca Gade, 19th Annual Translation Contest Winner

With the Japan Association of Translators (JAT) Twentieth Annual Contest for New and Aspiring Japanese<>English Translators underway, we spoke to last year’s winner of the Japanese to English contest, Rebecca Gade, to find out what it takes to stand out in this event.

Tell us about yourself and how you got into translation

I’m Rebecca Gade from North Carolina, now living in Sendai City, Japan. I translate from Japanese to English, mainly general, but with a minor in creative writing. I feel more comfortable with creative tasks. My career in translation began as a proofreader about five years ago, and I gradually moved into full-time translation around a year or so ago. Currently, I'm training to do patent and legal translation.

How did you learn about the Japan Association of Translators (JAT) contest?

A friend and former teacher turned translator, who had taken part in past JAT translation contests, recommended it to me. I’d wanted to do it for a while but it was only last year that I finally had the time to focus on it.

How did you prepare for the contest?

I spent a lot of time reading through past entries and judges' comments. I found some of the past contest texts quite challenging compared to my entry year, but I guess it really comes down to what you’re familiar with.

What was your process for tackling the contest translation?

I would say I worked on the translation fairly consistently for the whole month. I got my first draft out in the first week and kept coming back to it to refine and double check as I researched more. As with my regular translation projects, research was integral to producing a quality translation and a lot of my time was spent on this activity. Not just the subject matter, but researching the terms, checking journals in Japanese to find the equivalents used in English, and ensuring their appropriate usage within different contexts. I also read newspaper articles to find the right tonal balance between journal-style and a kind of newsy flair.

What aspect of the contest did you find most challenging?

All of it! The subject matter, international relations and political science, is not something I’m particularly knowledgeable about, so there was that aspect to contend with. Then there were also concepts and terms used in Japan that don't always translate directly or might not even exist elsewhere, which added another layer of difficulty. It helped that the source was really well written, which is not always the case in our line of work! Even on the first read-through, I got the general idea of the author’s intent and overall message, which made that initial understanding relatively easier, and helped me approach the first draft with confidence.

Has this experience helped you grow as a translator?

For sure! It was incredibly insightful. One of the reasons I entered the contest was to get the judges' analysis and feedback on my translations. I knew that would only happen if I was selected as a finalist, so I was really excited when I got the email from the judges. Getting such detailed, tailored feedback was tremendously valuable, especially as a new translator. And of course, there were concrete benefits from winning, like JAT membership and complimentary tickets to IJET-31 in Tokyo. But there were also indirect benefits, like becoming a bit more known in the translator community, which was great since I’m naturally shy. I even gained a client which I’m pretty sure was a direct result of winning the contest. Having this win on my resume and the subsequent boost in professional opportunities has been wonderfully helpful.

What advice would you give to those who are entering the contest this year?

Second-guess everything and never fully trust your gut. Also, take breaks and come back to it with fresh eyes. I remember there was one line that I changed right near the end. I’d been going back and forth on it but decided to take a chance and go for it. And it was actually a line that one of the judges praised in their feedback. That line could only come about because I had given it time, let my brain rest long enough to produce something worthwhile. So, take a lot of breaks, don't be afraid to take a chance, and just give it your best shot.

Final words?

I am so grateful to the judges and other JAT volunteers who dedicate their time every year to give new translators such fantastic opportunities to learn and grow. And best of luck to all the contestants for this year! I can’t wait to see what amazing translations you come up with.


Rebecca Gade is a Japanese to English translator. Originally from the US, Rebecca is currently based in Sendai. She is a former eJuku participant, a winner of the 19th JAT Translation Contest, and a professional member of JAT. She also enjoys writing novels and short stories in her free time.