Each translation language pair (Japanese to English, German to English and so forth) operates as its own separate market within the translation industry and each market is significantly different to the other in terms of the level of translation demand, the number of available translators, most commonly requested translations and consequently prices which further differs depending on the direction of the translation between the language pair. Surfing over the web, you will see that Japanese often gets rated among the top most lucrative and profitable translation languages. Why is that? Here we will explore how the economic strength and other factors of the main English-speaking countries and Japan and the relatively low levels of people proficient in the language of the other means it is essential to have your documents and websites translated from English to Japanese and vice versa.
A Look at Translation Demand and Supply
Like any other industry, translation is subject to the law of demand and supply and the reasons for the demand and supply dynamic within the Japanese-English translation industry is ultimately why your company or venture really needs to have its correspondence, documents and online materials translated into and from these languages.
Translation demand is dependent on the economic prowess of a country or countries in which a language is spoken, its business presence and the level of economic activity in the language in and outside the country of its origin. English has long been dubbed the global language of business and the internet. The native English-speaking countries including Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, etc. all have generally good, steady economies with a high service-sector and are desirable for doing business and trade with. The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada are members of the Group of Seven (G7) leading high-income countries and are in the world’s top 10 biggest economies for 2018-2019 with the United States in 1st place (https://www.focus-economics.com/blog/the-largest-economies-in-the-world). Add to this, the many countries whose second native language or common use language for business purposes is English and the high number of individuals across the globe who are proficient in English and you see you have a big demand for translations into English from people who need to sell their product or service to English speakers and even potentially the millions of other language speakers who understand English and the demand for translations from English from companies, etc. in English speaking countries who want to sell their products or services overseas, etc. Yet, while it goes without saying that there is a large demand for translation into and from English, the same will not be true for some other languages because of there being fewer native speaking countries and people and the smaller trade volume with the English-speaking world.
Now, if we look at Japan, Japan similarly is one of the most powerful economies in the world today with the world’s third largest economy and it is also a member of G7. The country boasts some of the largest and most well-known corporations in the world with Mitsubishi, Toyota and Honda being just a few among them. (http://www.economywatch.com/companies/forbes-list/japan.html). These massive corporations as well as a multitude of other Japanese companies do business all over the world and Japan in terms of business, is regarded as having a strong global presence with the United States being Japan’s biggest trading partner and Australia and the United Kingdom being among its top 11 trading partners. (http://www.worldstopexports.com/japans-top-import-partners/ ) This creates a high demand for Japanese to English translations as Japan tries to continue to trade with and access the English-speaking markets and because Japanese companies can also work with other countries such as Singapore and those in the EU to some degree using English which further drives up the demand. Much of Japan’s economy is based on the export of advanced technology which is reflected in the fact that it files an exceedingly high number of patent applications in the US which also need to be translated and because of the high financial and technological exchanges between Japan and the English-speaking world, there is a high demand for translations in the finance, law, marketing and information and communications arena. If we look at the demand for English to Japanese translation, if you consider that Japan has a high population and there are approximately 127 million Japanese language speakers with large Japanese-speaking communities in China and other Asian countries and that like the majority of English-speaking countries, Japan is literate, has high living standards and strong buying power and in addition also has a very active internet population with active online users meaning more potential buyers and consumers, Japan is without doubt a highly desirable market to penetrate so the demand for translations to Japanese is also high.
When we look at translation supply in the Japanese-English translation market, we will see how the supply issue actually constitutes yet another reason for the necessity of Japanese-English translations.
Translation supply is dependent on the number of people who are proficient in the languages involved in the translation. When having your documents translated, you need a translator who is able to understand the original document (source language) as well as write like a native speaker in the translation language (target language) and the level of difficulty in finding such a translator indicates whether the supply is high or low.
About 20% of the world’s population speak English either as a native or a foreign language, etc. That’s a lot of people. English learning has become compulsory at school in many countries around the world and English is spoken at a useful level by some 1.75 billion people worldwide which is one in every four. (https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/english-effect-report-v2.pdf) There is fierce competition when it comes to English language learning with children learning and being exposed to the language from younger and younger ages. This has driven the English proficiency standard to very high levels and there are high numbers of non-native English speakers who can speak and write English at an extremely high level and some even on a par with native speakers. This means the pool of potential translators able to translate from English is massive. In other words, supply is high.
That being said, when you look at the level of English proficiency by country, this supply will differ. While the Netherlands stands at the top of the global English proficiency index, therefore, lending to a high supply of potential English to Dutch translators, Japan has the lowest English capability of all the G7 countries ranking in 37th place in the world on the global English proficiency index (https://www.ef.com/epi/). This means that there is a much smaller pool of good potential English to Japanese translators and thus a lower supply. The lack of proficiency in English means that the number of native speakers of Japanese who are competent translators of English are few compared to the number of translators in other language markets.
Looked at from another angle, it can be said that, in countries where supply is high resulting from high numbers of proficient speakers, you might still be able to tap into their markets using English because the level of English comprehension is high enough for them to understand the English materials but in a country where supply is low due to lower levels of English proficiency such as Japan, you will not be able to penetrate the market with your English materials. You need to have materials in Japanese to make your company’s products and services accessible at all to Japanese people. This also applies when working with Japan, company to company or individual to individual, or when operating your company in Japan. While in countries like the Netherlands or Germany you may be able communicate by email or other correspondence using English, because Japanese rarely achieve a college reading level English, the numerous foreign companies doing business in Japan must have most, if not all, of their materials such as company regulations, training materials, manuals, email correspondence and memos, etc. translated into Japanese for use by the Japanese staff. So, this issue of low supply created as a result of low levels of English proficiency within the country in turn generates a high necessity and demand for translation into Japanese.
On the Japanese supply side, the situation is worse. In general, Japanese does not feature on the school syllabus in English-speaking countries unlike say French, Spanish and German so there are less English-speakers who have any background in Japanese and much fewer English speakers who start Japanese from a young age. Added to this, according to the Foreign Service Institute Language Difficulty Rankings, Japanese ranks in the most difficult language category for English speakers along with Cantonese, Mandarin, Arabic and Korean but is asterisked as being even more difficult than the other languages in the same category. (https://www.atlasandboots.com/foreign-service-institute-language-difficulty/) This means there are less English speakers who go into Japanese learning and ultimately less English speakers who succeed in it. So, while there may be a large number of native English speakers who have a good command of French or Spanish and can translate French or Spanish documents to English there are fewer numbers of native English speakers who are proficient in Japanese and capable of handling translations from Japanese. This situation presents all the same issues as described in relation to English-speaking countries going into the Japanese market. Japanese companies cannot penetrate the English-speaking markets without translating into English and cannot correspond with or manage companies in English-speaking countries without having all their materials in English. There are too few English speakers who can work in the Japanese language.
In short, the great business opportunities afforded by the affluent economies and societies of the English-speaking countries and Japan coupled with the lack of large numbers of proficient speakers of the other language generates a high demand for Japanese-English translations. You just cannot miss out on the business potential of these markets and you just cannot get by without communicating in their respective languages. Japanese-English translations maybe more so than some other language pairs are a must for any business wanting to succeed.