Practice along with me

Practice along with me

I put together a practice schedule to help me polish the basic skill set that goes into translation and interpretation. I will put the schedule up here and then post occasional progress updates. Feel free to practice along with me and post any resources you found particularly helpful.



  1. Improve memory and recall skills.
  2. Improve concept understanding and retention.
  3. Improve number recollection.


  1. Phrase more flexibly.
  2. Improve Japanese writing style.


  1. Increase vocabulary.
  2. Increase grammar knowledge.

Practice Tasks

  Task Applicable Objective
1 10 digit number memorization I-3
2 Number interpretation I-3
3 Word chaining I-1
4 Phrase memorization I-1, T-1, G-1, G-2
5 Quick word interpreting I-1, G-1
6 Shadowing I-2, T-1, G-1, G-2
7 Consecutive practice I-1, I-2
8 Translation editing T-2, G-1, G-2

Explanation of Tasks

1.      10 digit number memorization

Listen to a recording of ten unrelated numbers. Repeat as the recording plays. Then, play the recording again and wait until the first two numbers have been said to start repeating. This way, you are hearing numbers and saying different numbers.


Recording: “1, 5, 33, 47, 118…”

You:             “……….1, 5, 33, 47, 118…”

2.      Number interpretation

Listen to a recording of random numbers (over 6 digits) and interpret them into the opposite language.

3.      Word chaining

Memorize a series of random words by forming a story in your head as you hear them.

4.      Phrase memorization

Memorize sentences from JLPT N1 vocabulary book. Repeat the previous one before starting to memorize the next.

5.      Quick word interpreting

Prepare a list of 10 words in Japanese and English. Look at each word in the Japanese column and say the English version. Repeat with opposite language. Time target of 10 seconds to interpret the whole list (ie: no time to think about it).

6.      Shadowing

Listen to a speech and repeat the speaker’s words as he is speaking without changing or missing any words. This is done in the language of the presenter (ex: listen to Japanese and repeat in Japanese).

7.      Consecutive practice

Listen to a 5 minute speech and take notes. Interpret after speech has concluded. Record your interpretation. Re-watch speech and check for errors.

8.      Translation editing

Take an old translation and remove any confidential content (company names, etc.) Post on lang-8 to solicit corrections. Compile revised version in translation notebook.

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.


The Importance of Background Knowledge

The Importance of Background Knowledge

Background knowledgeI recently had the opportunity to interpret for a machine specialist from Japan. He was visiting the U.S., trying to help different customers who had purchased his company’s machines get them set up correctly. After he ran some trials and explained what he had done to our English speaking staff, they thanked him for his time and I left the room with them. When he was alone with our Japanese staff, he proceeded to tell them how impressed he was with my interpretation. “Most interpreters can speak both languages and are fine with regular conversations but they get caught on the nitty-gritty machine stuff,” he told them. What impressed him about me is that I was able to talk like someone who knew about machines.

When you become an interpreter, it is easy to feel like you have arrived. You have been acknowledged as someone who is fluent in both languages and you are paid for that skill. However, that skill should never be static. We should never be content where we are. If we want to truly be able to express things the way someone would if they had spoken in their native language, we have to know what they know. I’ve heard experts say that if you are interpreting for a doctor, you should almost as much as a doctor knows. You can know all the words a doctor knows in two languages, but if you don’t have the background knowledge, you may not put them together correctly. Your interpretation will always lack the fluidity and coherence of the native language utterance.

The good thing is that we learn with each new job we take. So, all you have to do is be proactive about it. As you are interpreting, jot down or make a mental note of things you don’t understand or didn’t prepare for and look them up later. When you have the opportunity, ask questions. Don’t be afraid to speak up to clarify something that was not clearly stated. In my experience, most people respond favorably to their interpreter being thorough and trying to learn, rather than just glossing over things they don’t get.

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.

Boosting L1 Skills for Translating and Interpreting

Boosting L1 Skills for Translating and Interpreting

This is based on「日本語力強化大作戦」『通訳翻訳ジャーナル』2013年1月号 (WINTER)


This article posits that, at least in the world of translation, there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” language. What is most important is that the language used in the translation is appropriate for the field, target audience, medium, etc.

Industrial Translation

Unlike literary translation, industrial translation texts need to be clear and logical, and adhere closely to the original. The translation must also make sense to the reader. In order to achieve that, you must understand the particular document’s field, content, and intended audience. If the document is meant for internal use, you can use more terminology, company-specific words, and abbreviations. However, if the intended audience is outside the company, it may be more important give a non-literal, meaning based, translation to make the content more comprehensible.

Often, translation in this field comes down to “literal and comprehensible” or “non-literal but easy to understand.” The best translators, according to the article, can do both. They are able to keep a literal, one to one correlation between the English and Japanese while creating an easy to read, natural sounding text. Good translators are often bold when it comes to the structure of the sentence, but are very cautious with the terminology.

Improving Target Language Skills for Industrial Translation

Phrasing and terminology are key in this field. The best way improve your L1 proficiency in this area is to read a lot of articles from that field, collect example sentences, build your TM, and then imitate those examples in your translation. We often think of doing this in our L2, borrowing sentences that we have heard before, but less so when writing in our L1. Yet it is very important for this type of translation. Additionally, terminology and phrasing can vary by company so it’s important to know what terms are used in the company you are translating for. Press releases and messages from the CEO will help you understand the tone and phrasing used by that company.


Interpreting requires equal proficiency in both languages. However, in interpreting, it is crucial that you understand what is being said. If you can take a complex discourse spoken in your L1 and change it into simple comprehensible L2 discourse, that is good. However, if you don’t understand the content, even though it is in your native language, you will not produce a good L2 interpretation. So it’s important to have good skills in phrasing and a wide knowledge base. A good interpreter will be able to take what is said by the speaker, scrape away the unnecessary words and 口癖, and produce a simple, natural, beautiful sentence in an instant.

In interpreting, TPO must always be considered, especially for Japanese. “Would you like to get dinner?” for example, would be interpreted very differently between two coworkers and between a subordinate and the president of the company. It would also be different if they were in a bar vs. in an office. Appropriate language for every TPO, both in the L1 and L2, must be mastered.

Improving Native Language Skills for Interpretation

Since natural phrasing is so important in interpretation, you should always be looking out for interesting phrases and writing them down as they come up. Also, it’s important to look up any words you come across in your native language that you don’t understand. This will help you broaden your knowledge base. In addition, it can be good to shadow the news in your native language to get used to formal discourse.

Interpreters must never forget to keep reading. Everything. The more you read, the more your knowledge base and vocabulary grow. Interpreters should read not only newspapers or magazines, but also novels, because they are a great source of spoken dialogue.

Hiring Agencies in Ohio

Hiring Agencies in Ohio

If you are looking for a Japanese translation position in the central Ohio area, please try contacting the following agencies:

Next Step Resources

Compass Tech International

Xecutive Consulting

or possibly Omni One Staffing

In the rest of the US, try:

Top US

or try going to the New York or Boston Career Forum, a job fair for Japanese bilinguals.


When looking for a job, remember that you don’t necessarily have to have translation experience. You do need to have work experience. Show that you have language skills and can hold down a job.

For those of you who have not taken the JLPT, you may want to try ACTFL (a spoken proficiency test administered over the phone) or J-CAT (an internet administered test similar to JLPT but adaptive so it gets harder as you answer more questions correctly) to prove your language ability

Meaning, not words

Meaning, not words


One of the most difficult things to remember when translating is that you must focus on the meaning, not the words. The picture above is a great example of this. I’m sure the person who made it thought that they were “translating ‘Hello'” into many different languages. However, that is not entirely accurate. “Hello” in American English is a neutral greeting. It puts some distance between you and the target of the greeting, compared to the relative closeness of the term “Hey.” However, it is also formality and time neutral. こんにちはis also of relatively neutral formality, but it is more akin to “good afternoon” (in that it has a variant: こんばんわ) and is appropriate only at a certain time of day. That being said, “Hello” is used commonly when picking up the telephone in English, for which こにちわ in Japanese would be inappropriate. “Ciao” can mean “hello” or “goodbye.”  你好 is both “hello” and “how are you?” Even the translation of a simple word like “hello” varies by time of day, target of greeting, professional level of the speaker in reference to that target, medium of communication, etc. TPO!

So, when you are translating (or interpreting) it’s important to focus on the meaning of what’s being said. Too often (especially in E>J) I will see a word and say to myself, ‘I don’t know how to say that word in Japanese’ so I will spend several minutes finding the appropriate Japanese translation of an English word, only to find that, when I get the sentence all put together, it doesn’t make any sense in context. Then I end up changing it to words that I already knew because they reflect the meaning better.

Just remember, being true to the original means reflecting the meaning of the original in the target language, without dropping any aspect of that meaning. It does not mean making sure that every word used in the original is used in the target. That makes for a wordy and confusing translation.

Read more

The Translator as a Writer

The Translator as a Writer

The following is the text of an email sent by John Stroman, an experienced patent translator, to the JAT mailing list. There have been a lot of discussions about the advantages of native speakers in certain aspects of translation and I thought this email hit the nail on the head.

Nishiyama Sen once described the ideal interpreter as a window, an almost invisible entity lying between the source and the recipient that allows the source image to pass through to the recipient with as little distortion as possible.

I think the same concept holds true for the ideal translator.

Rather than hurling bricks, I think we should take a step back and remember that translating is a subset of professional writing just as interpreting is a subset of professional speaking, but with the added condition that because two different languages are involved, the image passing through the window will inevitably be distorted, much like the fuzzy images we see of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

Even among native speakers, some people obviously write and/or speak better than others. Generally people who are very proficient in their native language will also become very proficient in a foreign language if given enough time and opportunity to learn one, AND they are highly motivated. They can become bilingual specialists, but their language skills will rarely be perfectly balanced.

So let’s abandon the notion that a native speaker of the target language will always translate more competently than a non-native speaker. Such a person may write better than a non-native speaker, but not necessarily. Some people are just poor writers in their native language. Conversely, a native speaker of the source language will likely have better comprehension, but may not be able to express concepts as smoothly as a native speaker of the target language or may not be as astute mechanically. A professional translator (i.e., professional writer) who is a native speaker of the target language can be expected to make fewer mechanical errors in the translated output, but one who is a native speaker of the source language can be expected to comprehend the source language better. Choose your poison.

Different translation tasks require different levels of comprehension and output. Several years ago I was asked to review the J>E translation of a chemical patent by a very prominent NES translator. The translation was beautifully written; in fact, much more eloquently than I could have done. In the examples section, however, the translator wrote that chemical A was added to a solution containing chemical B although anyone with a chemistry background would immediately grasp that such a procedure would result in an explosion.  The original Japanese simply stated that the two were added and mixed together, so no true chemist would make that kind of mistake, but the translator lacked such a background and “improved” the Japanese sentence to make it sound better in English.

Many people with some competence in a foreign language are either forced by their employers to translate, or they mistakenly become freelance translators even though they cannot comprehend the source language really well and/or are poor writers in the target language. Give me a biomedical translation, and I’m right at home. Telecommuncations or finance?  Forget about it. I don’t understand these fields at a high enough level in my native language.

I think the most we can say when we encounter a bad translation is that the translator was ill-equipped to handle the job, and we can only speculate about the reason.