College Paper About Fansubs - URGENT!

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Leyr Lettstat

New Member
Good evening,
I'm a student at USP (University of Sao Paulo, in Brazil) and I'm working on a paper about fansubbers, trying to show the academy the excellent work they do translating informally our favorite animes, from fans and to fans.

I ask all of you who are related to fansubbing, specially this forum's owners, to please answer the following 6 quick questions in order to clarify the process. Please, I ask you to answer as soon as possible, for this part of the paper must be concluded until the end of this month.

The questions are the following:

1 - Do you translate directly from Japanese?

2 - Do you use any books or sites as sources (grammars, dictionaries, etc)?

3 - Do you produce the subtitles in order to look like oral speech or not? Which is the parameter to make them (other subtitles, the concept you have on subtitles, etc)?

4 - What do you expect from a subtitle (something close to oral speech, something close to perfect grammar, etc)?

5 - If possible, please tell us the age, profession, etc of the envolved. If not, please tell us aproximately.

6 - At last, please tell a little about the process of translating, its parts, how many are involved, how long does it takes, etc.

Thank you all who read this to the end, and for those who answer, I thank even more.

PS: If you like to, you can answer by email, please send the answers for [email protected] If you want to, put the name of your fansubber.


- Lord of Chaos
First of all, this forum (and particularly the "forums owners") are not fansubbers. We are generally people who watch fansubs, though some of the members may be members of fansub groups (like I have been).

I'm not a translator, but I've worked for several different fansubbing groups over the years, so I can answer some of your questions based on those experiences.

1. Many fansub groups translate directly from Japanese to English, though some fansub groups use Chinese translations from someone else to translate to English (i.e. they find a chinese fansub, and translate the chinese to english to redistribute). The disadvantage to the Chinese -> English method is that there are often more mistakes due to the multiple language differences and translations required (especially where a work in Japanese means several things in English, but only one thing in Chinese, but the one thing in Chinese means different things in English than the thing in Japanese did. Confusing, huh?)

2. Usually, the groups I worked with did not use any outside sources (such as dictionaries) for the translations except in rare cases where an anime uses a word(s) which are no longer used in modern Japan (and thus people who are normally fluent in Japanese may not understand b/c they didn't have to learn it).

3. The editing team usually tries to adjust the translations to sound as fluent in English as possible as if it were being spoken. That said, sometimes something can't be re-written perfectly, so the editors must make a choice to go for a literal translation which makes less sense or a less literal translation that makes more sense but isn't quite the right meaning. As an editor, I always chose to go for the translation that makes the most sense to the viewer if they were to hear it spoken to them. So yes, I produce the subtitles to look like oral speech in a way that seems most natural and fluent to the viewer.

4. I expect something close to oral speech with the best grammar possible. In some cases, grammar is intentionally used wrong in order to make the sub look more natural - an acceptable loss. Essentially, go for the most natural and grammatically correct representation of oral speech patterns.

5. The fansub groups I worked of consisted of members ranging in age of 19-34. The average age was around 21-26 years old. Most members were College students. Those who were out of college had various professions ranging from web-artists to office clerks.

6. Different groups use techniques. Generally a group will have at least 3 members and as many as 20 (per project). The project group consists of 1 fetcher (gets the raw anime), 1-2 translators, 1+ editors, 1 typesetter/timer, 1 encoder (may also be typesetter/timer) and multiple Quality Checkers (who watch the anime with subtitles to check for errors in the script, timing, etc before release in case corrections are needed). Also, there are usually dedicated members to distribute the file wherever required. In my experience, the most efficient groups have around 5 members per project. Multiple translators cause problems due to different translations (same thing with editors). Multiple quality checkers on the other hand are preferred.

The process generally goes as follows:
Fetcher gets a raw for the group.
Translator(s) get to work writing up the script including rough times for each line.
Editors read over the script and make corrections as needed, making sure to consult translators to make sure meaning is retained.
Editted script is given to the typesetter/timer to be given proper effects, timing, etc.
Completed files are given to the encoder to be compiled into the final video file.
Video is sent to Quality Checkers (if they exist) to be watched. If any errors are noticed then the proper person is notified (i.e. if timing is messed up, typesetter/timer is notified; if lines read awkwardly, editor is notified; etc)
Process continues until final product is to satisfaction.
File is distributed as needed (put on bots on IRC, put up at torrent sites, etc).

Leyr Lettstat

New Member
Thank you very much.

About question 1, I asked this one because in my country, Brazil, some fansubbers translate from English, and yes, there's a lot of mistakes. But the Chinese part was new to me. I always thought of Chinese as a language more difficult than Japanese, because it's only made of kanjis.

As for the other answers, they were just what I was looking for. Thanks again.

If anyone else wants to answer the questions, I would be very pleased, for I need at least 10 answers...
Well, thanks for the first one!


- Lord of Chaos
In regards to question one and the Chinese stuff:
The reason some fansub groups use Chinese -> English (even on Japanese shows) is because there are a greater population of younger Chinese people (who would be interested in these kinds of projects) who KNOW Chinese around the world than there are young Japanese people who know Japanese. Therefore, you're often more likely to get Chinese->English translators than Japanese -> English, even though it'll be a lower quality translation.
All that said, Chinese is not too incredibly hard a language to learn . The problem of Kanji only applies to westerners who aren't used to that kind of writing system. In fact, Kanji is not nearly as difficult as it seems because the majority of characters are pictograms with meanings (the character for house LOOKS like a house with a little imagination, etc). Further more, although Japanese uses hiragana/katakana as well as Kanji, the majority of what you'll see in animes are kanji with some rare instances of the other two forms of writing. This is simply a matter of the way Japanese written language is designed.

By the way, the explanation from above is based on personal experience from both when I lived in China as a child and from learning Japanese as a college student.

Leyr Lettstat

New Member
Thanks again.
Actually, I've been a Japansese student for quite some time now, but I have hard time with reading kanji, even though sometimes I can understand it. It has been a nightmare to learn all the Joyo Kanji, the 1945 you must learn in Japanese...

And in Chinese you must learn at least 6000 from the more than 9000 existent...

That's why I wonder how it must be in a language with only one verbal time, and no modification in nouns, verbs, etc.

Sorry to make one more question, but I really know very little of Chinese. How is it like to translate from a language with no time or gender? How do you adapt it?

I'm also open to others who want to answer the original questions.


- Lord of Chaos
That's part of the problem with translating from Japanese to Chinese to English. You have to use on-screen cues and intuition sometimes in order to translate. Because of this, although the translators may be able to tell, the editors (who often times just look at a script and not at the video and even less often don't understand any of the Japanese/Chinese) can't and thus when they make edits which to them make sense, the edits really make little to no sense (or may make sense, but say the wrong thing). Some groups make the editors be at least partially fluent in order to avoid this, or have translators act as QC in order to make sure that all the fansubs make sense.

One other thing to keep in mind (while on the topic of kanji and its related difficulty) is that more often then not no writing is actually translated in fansubs. Most groups only translate what is spoken. A few groups translate important signs. Only rarely do groups translate anything and everything written on screen. As such, translators usually only need to be fluent in spoken [language] and not it written [language]. Also, you can usually tell what a sign says based on cues from what is being spoken (a student says the name of his school, so you don't have to be able to read the school sign, etc). So yeah, that makes things easier.

Leyr Lettstat

New Member
Hm... I never thinked about that... Of course, you don't have to translate the kanjis, because it's all spoken, so you basically don't have to know anything about hiragana or katakana or kanji...

You just have to understand the language orally, which is relatively easy. With Chinese is even easier, with no verbal time or the other things...

And as for Portuguese fansubbers, they only have to translate from English, which is not so easy, but not so complicated.

Hm... I wonder: is there any kind of patter for the ones using Chinese or Japanese? Like speedsubs, for example. Or is commom among all fansubbers?