From VNDev Wiki

Translation is the act of making a given work accessible in a language other than the one it was originally created in. In the context of visual novels, this means localizing text (dialogue, images, fonts and menus) and possibly recorded voices.

Machine translation

Machine translation (sometimes shortened to MTL or MT) is when a program takes one written language and converts it (often literally, poorly, or both) into another language. This is considered a bad way to handle translation for entertainment since machine translation tends to omit puns, euphemisms, and other literary nuances from the original language and/or culture. It can, however, be useful for translating manuals and documentation. Popular machine translation services are DeepL and Google Translate. The quality of the machine translation might vary between different languages, topics and writing styles.

While machine translations of VNs might not be very good on their own, they might be usable as a draft that a human could edit into a proper translation. However, machine translation software might translate code, such as variable names, that was encoded in the source text in order to get the engine to modify the text while displaying it, so either it would have to be configured to not do so, or the non-translatable parts should be temporarily replaced with nonsense, or it would have to be manually restored by editing the output.


If translators start translating before the VN is finished in the source language, changes in the source text might force them to retranslate stuff they've already translated, and even if the source text was just getting stuff added to it, the addition of text in one place might change how readers would perceive a different part of the story, possibly forcing adjustments to the translations of those. As a result, it's better to write all the text before asking for it to be translated, although in the case of VN Jams the time constraints might force you to start translating before you finish writing. In that case, it would be useful for the translators to have access to a summary of the parts that haven't been written yet.

For jam VNs and passion projects, there might not be money to pay professional translators, so finishing the script early to give the translators more time to work is probably more important for those than for commercial VNs where you might be able to throw more money at the translators to get them to work faster. But even when paying translators, you probably want to give them enough time that a single translator per language can translate all the text rather than needing to split the text into parts and have different translators translate different parts.

The translators read the VN in the source language, and research relevant topics if they need to. When researching stuff, they might create topic-specific glossaries or other resources for themselves (and their teammates, if any) to use. They might also start translating and then do some research on the fly.

However much or little research they do in advance, they will start translating text, and once they're done translating it they'll proofread it and then they'll usually get someone else to proofread it too. There's two different types of proofreader depending on what they look at:

  • Someone who checks that the target text means the same as the source text, this should probably be another translator.
  • A speaker of the target language who reads the translation to look for typos and clumsy wording, but doesn't necessarily understand the source language.

In some cases, particularly in the case of professional translation, there might be proofreaders of both types (usually one of each).


The challenges of translating a visual novel are similar to those of translating other types of video games:

  • The VN might have been written in one language and contain references to things that speakers of that language are familiar with but speakers of the target language maybe aren't familiar with. For example, if a distance is measured in feet, translations into some languages might need to convert it to metres or to another unit that the readers would understand, or if it refers to "an area as big as Texas", people in some other countries might not know how big Texas is, so a referent they know about might be needed. This could also refer to things like references to some TV show or other "common knowledge" thing that just isn't really international enough for the target audience of the translation to know.
  • Sometimes a thing that's ambiguous in one language might need to be kept ambiguous in another language. Examples:
    • Some languages makes it hard to talk about people without mentioning their genders, so a VN saying "you're so smart!" in English referring to the player could try to translate it into Spanish as "¡Qué listo eres" if the player is male and "¡Qué lista eres" if the player is female, but in order to refer to work for both genders it might have to say "¡Qué inteligente eres!". But if it ends up using a lot of words that are normally kinda rare in text originally written in the target language, it can end up feeling rather obvious that it's a translation, which is usually not desirable either.
    • Different languages have different ways to distinguish between formal and informal language, for example some languages use different words for "you" depending on the relationship between the speaker and listener. Also, some languages distinguish between talking to one person or to a group of people.
    • Pronoun systems in general can vary. Some distinguish singular and plural, others don't; some distinguish gender on one or more pronouns, others don't; some distinguish between a "we" that includes the audience and others don't.
  • Puns can be quite challenging to translate, especially if they refer to the visuals on screen, since images might be harder to replace than text.
  • Some visual novels might use poetry, where the way the text not only needs to convey the same message but it has to do so while using a poetic style. Different languages might have different criteria for what poetry should be like (for example, English poetry usually rhymes).
  • Space constraints: text might have to fit inside the size of a textbox or speech bubble, which might force some compromises if the text would normally take up more space in the target language than in the source language. Some textboxes might be resizable or support scrollbars, making this less of an issue.
  • Some visual novels might involve topics that are hard to translate text about if you're not very familiar with the topic yourself. For example, a VN about a tailor might mention different ways of sewing things and different items of clothing, which don't necessarily make the plot hard to follow without knowing them, but translating them properly requires having some knowledge of the topic or a way to get that knowledge. If a group of people is working together on translating the VN, they might keep a document or other way to keep track of the topic information they collect.
  • If a group of people are working together on translating a VN into the same language, they might need to coordinate things so that they can keep different parts consistent with each other, and they might need to proofread each other's part of the work.
  • Sometimes it might make sense to modify images to better suit the translation, although that creates more work for the artists. And if the font used for the source language doesn't properly support the target language, replacing the font might be necessary.