Sunday morning hilarity

Sunday morning hilarity

日本人の知らない日本語

So, I recently picked up a copy of 「日本人の知らない日本語」and I have to say it made me, literally, laugh out loud.  If you have ever been to an intensive Japanese program or any kind of exchange in Japan you will recognize all the character archetypes immediately; the student who learned Japanese by watching anime, the student who learned by watching samurai movies, the disgruntled student who doesn’t understand why things aren’t done the way they are in AMERICA, and the student who expects to find geisha and samurai walking around.  It is just 懐かしいfor those of us who have been through this kind of program.  Also, you can understand the teacher’s frustration with the kind of questions only foreigners would ask.  In one of the opening panels a student is trying to ask a question and the teacher stops him with 「立って言ってください」.  In a very loud voice, he replies 「」. lol.

Another nice thing about this book is, for some reason, it has furigana all over the place. I don’t know if they author intended it for foreigners or if it is just to illustrate some of the difficult points she talks about (like the above example).  Either way, if you are just getting you sea legs for native Japanese works, this would be a great transition for you.

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Follow up on why interpreters are so mean

Follow up on why interpreters are so mean

Having recently changed jobs, I would like to do a follow-up to my previous post on why interpreters can be so mean. Here are the reasons I have concluded:

1.  The nature of the job

By its very nature, the job of an interpreter cannot be done without at least two other people (or I suppose one other person and a media source.) Because of that, the person’s regular duties that occupy them consist of learning vocabulary and, wait for it…..WAITING. Which brings us to:

2.  Boredom

Because the interpreter cannot do his job when no one needs him, there is a lot of down time. This means there is a lot of boredom. When people are bored, they can adopt several different attitudes towards the boredom. From my experience these usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • I’m bored. I should find something constructive to do.
  • I’m bored. I guess I’ll just sit here. This sucks.
  • Hey, I have nothing to do? Awesome! I’m going to play Angry Birds.

Obviously there are other approaches that people can take. However, these three attitudes feed into what makes people in this field mean.

-An interpreter with the first attitude is trying to be of use. They haven’t yet grasped that the nature of their job is to be on call. They may find other projects to do within the company. They may seek out interpreting tasks, unintentionally bothering those around them. Or they may find themselves content to wait it out. Either way their attitude will be better than the other two.

-The second attitude is where the problems can start. Sometimes an interpreter with this attitude feels like they are not appreciated or not useful. They have no chance to practice their skills. They get dejected and frustrated with their jobs.

-The last type of interpreter is probably the worst. Now, hear me out. I am not saying you should not ever entertain yourself when you are bored at work (though I had a few bosses who thought so.) The reality is that, sometimes there is nothing to do. However, too often interpreters tend to think that their job is primarily comprised of free time. They feel they have the right to be on Facebook and the work that comes in interrupts their daily entertainment schedule. So, they get mean.

How dare this lowly person come in and make me do this menial task? I have better things to do!

So they snap back at the person saying that they know the person’s English is good enough to handle something like this or that they simply don’t have time. Or else, they roll their eyes and do the job quickly to try and get back to their entertainment. One of the reasons why they react this way is that they have come to see themselves as possessing great skill and knowledge without which the company wouldn’t function. Which brings us to the next point:

3.  Feeling of superiority

While this is not true of everybody, some interpreters I have met view themselves as being above everybody. Most people in a given company can only speak their native language. Most Japanese in the US can speak some English (some more than others). Some Americans in Japanese companies know a few words of Japanese. However, there are very few bilinguals who do not work as translators or interpreters. Therefore, the interpreters will start to see themselves as this god-like figure. They think that nothing will happen without them. While they are fundamental in communication, they do not in fact design or produce the products that the company sells to pay their pay check. They do not manage people, solve disputes, crunch numbers, or sweep floors. They sit in between departments and individuals, acting as a bridge of communication and nothing more. Some feel small in this position. Others blow it out of proportion. Both are equally wrong.

Its important to remember that you are not the only one who can do your job. Its also important to give credit to people who try to learn languages. Remember, you used to be one of them.

The Author is not Always Right

The Author is not Always Right

As a non-native speaker of a language, you sometimes fall into the rut of thinking everything that comes out of a native speaker is “correct Japanese.” This is not the case. If you think about Americans,  you will know this to be true. No one thinks that rednecks are “paragons of grammar.” (Being from West Virginia, I reserve the right to make redneck comments 🙂 But they are still considered native speakers. The same is true of Japanese. There are people who are not particularly good at their own language. You will undoubtedly meet native speakers who you can run grammatical (kanjical?) circles around. However, you still have to translate their work. But in these cases, you should not feel ashamed going back to them and saying, “I simply don’t understand what you are trying to say here.” Consider that, when documents are published in English for and English speaking audience, they go through an editor. That editor picks up grammar mistakes, logical fallacies, and generally makes the document more comprehensible. However, for most of us, the documents we translate have not been edited. Rarely are they even re-read by the author (if you work in-house). So it stands to reason that these kinds of issues would occur. Just go back to the author and ask.

Note: For anyone who is experienced and reading this, I am trying to help those who are just starting. I feel like, for those of us language learners who are aware of our surroundings and of the perception other people have of us, there is kind of an uneasiness with addressing inconsistencies in a native speaker’s writing; like who am I to question a native speaker? We are always afraid that they will come back and say “You just don’t know enough Japanese to understand this,” and all the work we’ve done to establish ourselves will vanish.   Silly perhaps but if you have ever tried to establish yourself as a legitimate part of a Japanese community (or in my case taken over for someone who was ethnically Japanese and raised bilingual) you will know how hard it can be to earn respect.