Impressions as a new translator for Gengo

The full article was originally published on Self Taught Japanese on January 3, 2016. Read on as author Jeff Wisgo weighs in on his experience as a new Japanese to English translator with Gengo.

On translator resources

“One of the first things you’ll notice when you join is you’ll have access to a series of short training lessons. They cover topics such as how you review your work, make compromises during translation, and basic tool usage. What I loved about these was that they were very skillfully written, using easy-to-understand images and comparisons to real-world activities (like traveling) in order to communicate their material.”

Gengo isn’t just a platform to access jobs, it’s also a community where translators can learn, share, and hone their skills. Check out our translator resources and let us know about additional lessons you’d like to learn.

On diverse content and declining jobs

“When you log in, there is a list of jobs which you can review and accept if you decide to attempt to translate them. The content also varies greatly across jobs and included everything I could imagine (and more): business communication, marketing materials, blog posts, recommendation letters, and even some things of a personal [nature]. Reviewing and performing these jobs really showed me a slice of Japan I hadn’t seen before, and made me feel this was the perfect thing to continue my Japanese studies.

As a rule I didn’t accept any jobs that I didn’t understand fully, although there is a way to decline a job after you have accepted it. Gengo says it is safe to do this once in awhile if circumstances require it, but if you do it frequently, you can run into trouble. I think their biggest concern is they don’t want people trying to hog jobs for themselves when there is a [possibility] they can’t finish them.”

Aside from gaining more knowledge in diverse fields and industries, Gengo translators also enjoy the flexibility of picking and choosing jobs. While we understand that dropping jobs is hard to avoid sometimes, we expect our translators to complete the majority of jobs they begin.

Image by @phayzedphotography via Twenty20 under Royalty-free images

On time limits

“Besides the diversity of the jobs, the time limits were also a pretty big surprise to me. To give an example, jobs with a few hundred words can have a time limit of one or two hours, roughly speaking. The thing about this time limit is that it is hard, meaning that if you don’t finish on time, the job gets returned to the queue for another translator to pick up.’s documentation says you can ask their support team for an extension, but I have never tried that and not sure how feasible it is.

An hour or two may seem like a long time, but even in a relatively short passage, if the material is hard enough, or contains words that are hard to translate into natural English, the time can go by pretty fast. One of my jobs for a few hundred words took me at least two and a half hours.”

All translations are given a time limit depending on the length of the job. The minimum time limit is one hour, while translators working on longer jobs are given more time to work (and sleep). If at any point, you’re uncertain whether you will finish the job you are working on, email for help.

On getting more jobs

“You can use email or their RSS feed to get notified when new jobs get in. This is critical because they can get snatched up pretty quick by other translators. At least two or three times I had clicked “accept” on a job, only to discover it had been taken seconds ago. This creates a tricky situation, since you want to review the job properly before you accept, and yet if you take too much time, the job may be taken, resulting in your time being wasted.”

To get notified of available jobs instantly, we recommend using Gengo’s RSS. Check out this support article for a step-by-step guide to setting up an RSS reader so you can spend less time searching and more time translating.

On earning

“I had sort of known this before I applied to, but making a significant amount of money with this website alone is definitely difficult. First, there is the issue about scarcity of jobs… Also, you need to be cognizant of [time] zones, because if you are sitting there waiting for jobs to come in when most people who speak the target language are asleep, you’ll end up waiting a long time.

For a passage comprised of a few hundred characters, you can get a few dollars, but when I did a calculation against how much time I actually spent on it (including pre-translation), usually it worked to be less than minimum wage (which is around ~$7.00 in the USA now). Having said that, as I gain experience in various domains my speed should go up, and there are also various translator tools which claim to be able to accelerate overall translation time (a popular one seems to be SDL Trados). Assuming enough jobs are available, I could see eventually getting $10-$20 dollars an hour if things worked out well.”

Income varies across languages depending on customer demand and job availability. In our most active pairs, translators earn close to $300 per month on average. We’re constantly working to increase job availability for all translators in all pairs.

Image by @ashiqkhan via Twenty20 under Royalty-free images

On ease of use and support

“I really like how’s site is designed; it’s so easy to review, accept, and submit jobs. Their customer support is also excellent. I have asked them four or five questions, and they usually respond in a few hours with a very polite, detailed answer. There are also several levels of feedback to keep things running smoothly, including occasional reviews from Language Specialists of your work and comments from customers (including requests to edit and resubmit your work). It’s important to understand that in many cases the customer may have some understanding of English, so don’t assume they will overlook errors.”

Language specialists provide two complementary types of feedback aimed at helping translators improve. Granular feedback covers specific errors, how to avoid them, and translation best practices. Translators also receive more general, overall feedback that focuses on long-term improvement of translation, writing, and proofreading skills.

On the Pro-level test

“All I’ll say about it is that it was extremely difficult material, filled with places where I had to debate to go with the more natural [translation], or that which is closer to the source material. If I pass this, I’ll have options to more jobs and a higher rate, but even if I fail it won’t change my stance on being a great place to hone your skills and get your feet wet in the translation business.”

The Pro-level test is for our translators with significant experience and those who consistently provide high quality. To date, we have a total of 6,500 Pro-level translators. Before taking the Pro-level test, check out our top tips. When you think you’re ready, give it a shot! Good luck!

How was your experience when you first started with Gengo and how has it changed over time? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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Jeff Wisgo

The author

Jeff Wisgo

Jeff Wisgo is enamored with Japan's culture and has been studying Japanese for around 20 years. In recent years, he has become interested in translation and is considering someday becoming a translator of fiction novels. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and son where he works as a Software Developer. You can see several of his translations on his blog,

  • Val

    I’m lucky, then, I’ve been earning over 1000 steadily for at least a year! Although I’m glued to my desk for another job. I wonder what would happen if I weren’t.

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