IJET 25 Post 1: よくわかる逐次通訳

IJET 25 Post 1: よくわかる逐次通訳

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.


Interpreting-222x300Ms. 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.


What you need to know about interpreting at a Shareholders Meeting

What you need to know about interpreting at a Shareholders Meeting


1. No Two Companies are the Same
When I showed up to interpret my first shareholders meeting, I was full of nervousness. I had done as much homework as I could by watching youtube videos of speeches made by directors, reading documents from well-known companies’ meetings, and wading through posts by other interpreters that recounted their horror stories. But nothing could have prepared me for that day. Namely because, it was no big deal. It was just a couple men sitting around a table, one talked, the others listened to him read a report which had been prepared well in advance. So, all that preparation I did was basically useless because we are a small informal company. So, you need to get to know the actual company that you are interpreting for.

2. Know your Documents
Read the financial statements, business reports, and whatever else they give you over and over. You need to do this, not just to grasp the vocabulary, but also to understand where the company is and how they are doing financially so you know what kind of conversations are likely to come up.

3. Speed is Key
Most of the reports given in a shareholders meeting are done as a formality, not for the edification of the participants. Everyone has already seen the report. So, this part can go very fast. Whatever language you are interpreting into, make sure to practice saying these long, complicated words out loud as fast as you can so your tongue can get used to them.

4. Numbers!
Practice, oh practice your numbers. You will be dealing with astronomical numbers (to the average person) and the difference between 7,000 and 700,000 can mean one very angry client. When dealing with English to Japanese, try to get a feel for the room. If your client is freely using the ミリオン, then you can also switch, which will make your life easier.

Well, that’s all the tips I have to offer. If anyone else has had to deal with IR or Shareholders meetings, be sure to tell me about it in the comments.

Downtime: What to do when you have nothing to do

Downtime: What to do when you have nothing to do

Lately I have had a lot of downtime at work. So, I decided to write a blog post about effective use of time, rather than using my time effectively 🙂

Step 1: Organize and Review

If you have been taking notes while you are translating or interpreting, or if you have been saving a document to look over in detail, now is the time to do that. I like to organize the vocab I look up into lists by theme (HR words, Manufacturing words, Financial words, etc) and that is rather time consuming. It can be a great thing to do if you have nothing else to do. Take the time to organize what you have done so far. Put your files in order. Take the words you looked up on the last translation and review them. Put them into a flash card program. Go over old translations.

Step 2: Practice

If you don’t have any work to do, you can always make work for yourself. Go get an NHK article and start translating. Put the translation up on lang-8 and see what people think. Practicing will grow your vocabulary and give you more words to add to your glossary. If you are a straight interpreter, try pasting an article into google translate. It has a read-to-me function that you can use to help you practice interpreting. (Note, I am not telling you to use the translation google provides. Use the read-to-me function on the original, not the translation. We all know how bad GT is.) If you work in close quarters with other people just stick your headphones in and interpret in your head. It may look silly but its actually pretty good practice.

Step 3: Professional Development

See what other things are out there that might help you be a better translator. Research translation classes, online classes in your field, articles related to your field. There might not be something you can do right then but you might be able to suggest something at your next personnel review. Most companies love it when their employees take the initiative in professional development.

Step 4: Familiarize yourself with the Building/Products

If you work in a factory, this is a great time to go out on the floor and watch the processes, see how things work. Take notes and try to look up how to say things that you don’t know. (You may see things you’ve never thought to mention in conversation: beams, rafters, ventilation, etc.) You can also take this time to shadow someone, if anyone is willing. You don’t have to get involved you can just watch them do what they do and take notes. Try to translate out what you saw in a diary entry kind of thing. If you don’t work in a factory, find some parts laying around or some drawings and familiarize yourself with those.

Step 5: Taking stock and self evaluation

Let’s take some time to look at where you are and where you want to be. Look at how much progress you’ve made in your job. List your accomplishments to date. Include things like “I went to this seminar” or “I translated this thing that was out of my specialty.” Then take time to list out some goals. What are your weak points? What would you like to be able to do? What steps do you need to take to get there? This will help you know how to better use your downtime when you have it.

Step 6: Read

Reading is always good for our profession. Open up any random Japanese news site and start reading. It can be taxing when you just got done translating 10 pages and all you want to do is zone out, but reading is one of those things that we have to be able to do. It is how we grow our vocabulary. Reading is essential for translators.

Not every word you don’t know is a word you don’t know

Not every word you don’t know is a word you don’t know

Have you ever had this experience? You see or hear a word in your native language and think that you don’t know how to say it in your target language. But then when you look it up, you find a word that you actually knew. This happens to me a lot. The main problem is that we are looking for one-to-one equivalents and ignoring the general meaning, which we understand because it is are native language.

Here is an example. I recently looked up the word “orientation” (in terms of “the orientation of the part in the fixture”). I thought that it must be a word I didn’t know. But when I looked it up, I found 方向. Of course I know that word, but I never equated “orientation” with “direction” which was the English definition that I assigned to 方向 when I first learned it. The problem is that we don’t think about the overall meanings of the words we hear or read. If I had thought about it, I would have realized that the “orientation” of the part is pretty much how it is put in the fixture: right side up, left side in first, vertically, surface down, etc. It’s more or less the same thing.


There is actually a book about this called 同時通訳が頭の中で一瞬でやっている英訳術リプロセシング. I have only just started reading it but it seems like her main thesis is that interpreting is really just taking what you hear and instantly changing it to reflect a meaning that you can then convey clearly in your target language. Unfortunately, after that thesis the book devolves into a series of common business phrases and their “appropriate” translations. But still, the main point is fairly solid. If you are trying to 直訳 everything, you are going to get some funny sentences. The same holds for words. We need to grasp the meaning of what is being said and translate that rather than paying attention to the words the person is using.

Knowing your material

Knowing your material

An article in the latest 通訳・翻訳ジャーナル(春号)brought up a very interesting point. As an interpreter, it is not enough to simply look up the words you will need to know. You have to also understand the company, their goals and philosophies, as well as what they do. But more than that, you have to understand the subject matter. No matter how many words you memorize, if you don’t truly understand what is being talked about, you won’t be able to interpret it successfully.

This makes the interpreter’s job even harder than some people might think. Lets say you get a job doing medical interpretation. You know that the appointment is going to be about diabetes. You need to not only memorize the words related to diabetes, but you also need to understand all the implications that having diabetes has on your life, the different kinds of diabetes, different types of treatment, etc. And then, when the doctor comes in and says something way out of left field (like he thinks you should eat lots of fruit), even though your research has told you otherwise, you still need to interpret exactly what the doctor says. We need to be informed. But no matter how much we think we know, we cannot interfere. Our role is conduit of information. We are not meant to give our opinions. Who knows, maybe some study just came out that says specific fruit in specific doses will improve the body’s insulin production. I’m just saying. Remember, you need to learn, not to input your opinions, but to be able to say what the speaker says clearly and comprehensibly.