I had the pleasure of attending IJET (the Japan Association of Translator’s Annual Conference) in Tokyo last June. Since I have been away from blogging for a while, I thought giving an overview of some of the sessions I got to attend might be a good way to get back in the swing of things.
Ms. Chikako Tsurata gave one of the best comprehensive overviews of interpretation that I have ever heard.
She began by explaining that interpreters’ primary job is to foster communication, which requires a very delicate balance of 直訳 and 意訳. Too much 直訳 and the interpretation becomes incomprehensible. Too much 意訳 and the listener (or speaker) will start to feel that the interpreter is not conveying the true message. However, the difficulty is that Japanese is a particularly high-context language; meaning that there will always be things left unspoken which must needs be spoken in English to communicate the intended meaning.
She explained that an interpreter’s job is actually to comprehend a non-verbal meaning from spoken dialogue and express that meaning in another language. Their job is not to translate words, but the meaning that the speaker is trying to convey with them; to give words to meaning. So, you should ask yourself, what words would I use to convey this meaning in English?
She went on to say that interpreters are effectively information processors. They have to first listen, then gather meaning from what was said, then put that into the target language in the appropriate register. In order to listen effectively, you need to listen actively and follow the flow of the discourse; anticipating where it will go next. In order to understand the meaning, you have to have a very broad knowledge base. In order to convey that meaning in words, you have to be sensitive to the type of discourse, and choose the appropriate register, terminology, and phrasing to get the speaker’s point across.
She then took some time to cover the basics of note-taking. However, I won’t go into that here because there are vast amounts of resources on note-taking and I feel ill-equipped to add to the pile when I am not myself a consecutive interpreter.
Lastly, she made the point that interpreters are effectively public speakers. Therefore, it is important to be a good speaker, not just a good interpreter. She then made a point which is very close to my heart. (I am translate-paraphrasing here because I didn’t take exceptional notes:) “Just because we can’t say our opinions doesn’t mean we don’t have them. Sometimes it’s good to practice debates and speeches so that you can put yourself in the shoes of the speaker.” She closed by stressing the importance of native language competency, stating that your first language is the base for everything else. You build your second language on top of that. If your base, your grasp of your native language, is not firm and well grounded, what you build on top of it will also be weak.