How to practice interpreting in shared space

How to practice interpreting in shared space

If you work in an open office, like I do, it can be very hard to practice interpretation. In the rare free time you have, you will end up just reviewing Anki decks or reading NHK so you don’t disrupt people. While these are valuable ways to study, nothing can take the place of actually practicing interpretation. So, here are some quick ways that you can practice effectively while still being at your desk.

Prepare to interpret

First, select the speech or other media that you are going to use to practice. Do not listen to it now. That would ruin your practice. Just have it ready. Try to select a fairly short piece of no more than 5 minutes on a single topic. (search and selection time: 5-10 min)

Next, begin your background research. Read articles related to that field. Listen to previous speeches by the same speaker. Read current news articles about this topic. (30 min, more if a very unfamiliar topic)

Then, prepare your vocab lists. Make them simple, one-word equivalent lists in excel. You can use these while interpreting as a reference too.  (List writing and study time: 20 min)

Lastly, practice Quick Response using your vocab list. This will help you to memorize the words. You can usually do this whispering at your desk without causing too much of a disturbance. But, you can also do it in your head.

Make sure your mic, recorder, and notes are all set up to begin interpreting.

Do the actual interpretation on your lunch hour

Once everyone in your immediate vicinity leaves for their lunch breaks, that is the time to do the actual interpretation. If you are doing simul, it shouldn’t take you longer than the media track. If consecutive, plan for close to double time. This means you have more than enough time to do multiple takes before everyone gets back. (20 min max)

Review your interpretation

Once the office is full, you can begin listening to your interpretation. Take a notebook and make notes of any pronunciation errors. Then listen to the original again and see if you missed any content.

 

And there you have it. Complete interpretation practice for a silent office.

Practice along with me: Word Chaining

Practice along with me: Word Chaining

word_chain

In my last post, I explained how to use Word Chaining to practice memorizing random words; which will help you get better at interpreting.

I stumbled upon a website that is great for that. Brain Connection’s Word Recall Game will show you a series of random words – each for a few seconds. Then it stops and asks you to write down as many as you remember, before showing you the answers. It is the perfect format for practicing Word Chaining. Give it a try today!

Resources for Practicing Japanese to English Interpretation

Resources for Practicing Japanese to English Interpretation

Recently, I have been looking for more ways to practice interpreting Japanese into English. But it is harder than you might think to find good resources. Even though there is a wealth of Japanese material out there, it is hard to find any that fits the general guidelines for good interpreting practice material.

What makes a good interpreting practice resource

Drawing from several different sources (see below), I have come to the conclusion that J>E practice material should be the following:

  1. 3-5 minutes in length
  2. with one speaker
  3. on a topic of a general nature (narrative, argument, explanation, etc)
  4. with clear audio (not muffled or recorded in a noisy environment)
  5. with a transcript (for checking meaning)
  6. with an English translation (when possible)

Obviously, these are ideal conditions for a beginner practice session. Once you have gotten used to these, you can move on to longer resources, with more than one speaker, on a more specialized topic. But if you want to be successful in practicing, I recommend you start easy and progress to more difficult. You may find it harder than you think at first.

Recommended Resources?

Given these conditions, I have only found three good resources. I explained one in the last post: Japanese to English Speech Interpreting Practice.

The second one is NHK Easy News. The benefit to these short news casts is that the audio is slow, but still natural paced, and there is a transcript. There is no English translation, but because the vocabulary has been simplified, it should be easy enough to understand. Also, they are short so it makes great quick practice.

The third is FluentU. With this site, you can access videos in Japanese (or several other languages) which have been transcribed and have vocabulary lists pre-generated. However, they do not allow you control over how you print the transcript. It automatically prints in a huge font with furigana. This means that it takes up several pages, making it difficult to use for something like sight translation. Also, the video topics vary a lot so you have to be choosy.

Resources:

Conference Interpreting: A Student’s Practice Book by Andrew Gillies

同時通訳者の英語ノート術&学習法 by 工藤 紘実

はじめてのウィスパリング同時通訳 by 柴田バネッサ清美

Japanese to English Speech Interpreting Practice

Japanese to English Speech Interpreting Practice

In Andrew Gillies’ book, Conference Interpreting: A Student’s Practice Book, one of the first pieces of advice he gives is to work into your strongest language when practicing. For me, that means I should practice interpreting Japanese into English, not the other way around (which I have always found to be easier).

With that in mind, I have been looking for material that is suitable for practicing interpretation. Gillies goes on to explain that such material should have a narrative and be of a reasonable length without being overly technical (at least in the beginning). He adds that news broadcasts are about the worst thing you could chose because they change topics approximately every 90 seconds. Since that is almost all I listen to, I went in search of some real speeches in Japanese.

I was able to find this site which has the script from several speeches made by Prime Minister Abe, along with their English translation. A few even have the video of the speech, which makes them ideal for practicing.

http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/press/enzetsu/e_souri.html

So far, this is the best resource I have come up with. If anyone finds others, please share them.

Study All the Things: How a Translator Studies Japanese in the U.S.

Study All the Things: How a Translator Studies Japanese in the U.S.

study-all-the-thingsSo, let’s start with a disclaimer. I live in the mid-west in the United States of America; far removed from the country of Japan or even the Japanese communities of California and New York. While I work at a Japanese company and have exposure to the language every day, that is not enough to keep up translator level language skills. I need to expose myself to a lot more language. In a sense, I have to create my own immersion environment. So, here is how I do it. I am going to share with you the resources I use and the way they help with my translation and interpretation skills and practice.

Reading of the Paper Variety

booksOnce a year, I manage to get to a Japanese book store, either in Portland, OR, where my family is from, or in Japan when I’m on business trips. While there, I buy up a bunch of books to read for the year. Some of them turn out to be boring, some interesting, but I try to give them at least 2 or 3 chapters before giving up. I try not to force my way through books that I dislike, because I will just give up reading all together. I also get a good mix of fiction, non-fiction, technical, magazines, and manga.

The fiction helps me make my interpreting more natural. I usually read novels that are based in everyday life so that I can reuse the phrases I learn in my interpretation. On the other hand, the non-fiction seems to help with my writing. Self-help type books are usually written in a very clear and easy to understand manner. I can reuse a lot of the grammar and structures in my Japanese translations. The magazines help me to stay in touch with current issues in Japan. I love Nikkei Woman! After falling in love with it on my last trip to Kinokuniya in Portland, I have been having it ordered monthly from Japan through our parent company.

On that note: If you work for a Japanese company, it is likely that packages come in from Japan every month for your 駐在員. If you have a good relationship with them, you may be able to request a book or two and get free shipping 🙂 Try not to go overboard; one or two a month max. If that is not you, try a forwarding service like Tenso or White Rabbit Express.  Kinokuniya also has a lot of books in stock in the US and if they don’t have it, they will order it for you Japan, though they mark up quite a lot to cover the import and shipping costs.

Reading of the Digital Variety

I try to keep up with a couple different online publications:

Reading Techniques

bb6fe80bWhen I’m reading anything, digital or otherwise, I have two basic rules:

  1. Read the document to the end. If it is a novel, that means finishing the chapter as it would be hard to read the whole thing in one sitting. But with a news article I try very hard not to stop in the middle. It is important to finish the idea and get a grasp of the entire discourse.
  2. Only look up a word when: A) it has occurred more than once in a document and/or B) it is crucial to understanding the content of the document. If you look up every word you don’t know, you will go crazy.

Then when I find those words that I don’t know in a dictionary, I do one of three things:

  1. Acknowledge the definition and keep reading. Some words do not need to be remembered or written down. You will actually acquire them better if you just keep reading and let the word take form in the context of the document instead of trying to tie it down and memorize it with an English definition.
  2. Jot it down in a note book and keep going. Generally I do this for phrases that I want to remember and use later, especially those that would be nearly impossible to find in a dictionary; for example, slang terms.
  3. Jot it down on a sticky note to be actively studied.

As much as it might surprise you, number three is the one I do the least. Only when I encounter a word that I have been looking for and wanted to use in daily interactions, will I actually make an effort to study it. Usually, I do number one more than anything: figure out what it means and move on. You will get farther in the actual reading that way.

Listening

For this one, I am mainly going to give you a list of resources, as I don’t ‘study’ listening per se.

  • NHK News – At least once a week. Good for professional phrasing in your interpreting and background knowledge about what is going on in Japan.
  • KORL 97.1 – Japanese pop music radio station in Hawaii streamed through the iheartradio app.
  • TuneIn Radio app – Japanese radio live, great for listening to natural, unscripted conversations.

Watching

terebi

I distinguish this from listening because, while the skill is primarily auditory, the visual component makes it easier to understand what is being said. With youtube, it is actually relatively easy to get a quick shot of Japanese tv any time. I like to chose videos that wil help with my translation but, honestly, sometimes you just have to have fun with the language.

  • FNN News Youtube Channel – Short videos, good for interpreting practice.
  • 小紫真由美 話し方・プレゼンの専門家 – Videos by a former announcer on how to speak clearly and comprehensibly in Japanese.
  • Japanese Commercial Channel – This almost has no redeeming value, but it is fun.
  • Fuji, TBS, and NHK – Keeping up with what’s on tv even when you don’t have time to watch all the shows.
  • NHK高校講座 – A delightful website that streams several tv shows aimed at high-schoolers that cover the various topics they are studying in school. The content is simple, but the vocabulary you can pick up is very useful. They also have subjects like 日本史 and 国語表現 that those of us who were raised in the US didn’t get to take.

Then, of course, I will sit down and watch a full drama from time to time, but I can’t put links to those here.

If you have any resources to share or questions about studying in a Japanese void, feel free to leave me a comment.

Excel Vocabulary Notebook and Flashcard Template

Excel Vocabulary Notebook and Flashcard Template

How do you keep your vocabulary lists?

I have read that a lot of interpreters prefer to write them by hand because it helps you remember them. While I see the merit of that, I like to keep something on the computer so I can easily search for certain words. With that in mind, I found this great excel template for vocabulary lists. It has a notebook and a sheet that will randomly generate flashcards for you. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, it is still pretty easy to use.

Check it out!

xls15_tut_img02

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.

Getting your first job

Getting your first job

Getting your first job as a translator or interpreter can be hard if you don’t have any experience. This is a basic guide to help you know when you are ready, prepare for the job, and sell yourself to the company. 

Language Skills

  • Translating: There is no hard and fast rule about how much language you should have studied before you become a translator but I am going to make a subjective judgement and say at least 5 years of regular classes. Once you have completed 5 years of college level Japanese, you have a good foundation. Most college programs put you somewhere in between JLPT N3 and N2 after 4 years. There is still A LOT that you don’t know and translating will be a challenge for you. But a lot of the information that you need is stuff that you will not learn in a classroom anyway. The more you read on a variety of topics, the better you will be at translating.
  • For interpreting, I would put the bar much higher though. You will need to understand at least 80 to 90% of what you hear in business situations. If the news gives you trouble and you can’t watch TV shows without subtitles, you are not ready.

Certifications

  • For most in house translation jobs, you don’t need any certifications per se. However, if you have never translated before, certification will only help you.
  • Most jobs say they require JLPT N1 but you can get some jobs with N2 or with a lot of experience but no JLPT. The American Translators Association has a translation test but it is expensive and grueling. The only other option, that I know of is an online test from the Japan Translation Federation but this is given during the day in the Japan and therefore overnight in the US.

Selling yourself when you have no experience

  • If you are serious about becoming a translator, get some experience before you graduate. Volunteer to help translate for a local organization. Do some translation on your own. Research the area you want to translate in. Translate manga or sub anime for free. If there are Japanese companies in the area, contact one and ask them if they would be interested in hiring an intern. Anything you can use to say, ‘I have experience’ will be a plus. Likewise, if you want to be an interpreter, go to your school’s international student office and see if they have any Japanese students who need a little help registering for classes or getting a driver’s license. Be upfront with them, tell them you have never interpreted before but you want to practice. Most people will be understanding.
  • When you apply for your first job, be sure to emphasize the skills you have on your resume. There are lots of things other than language skills that go into being a good translator. Show them that you take initiative and can manage projects on your own, that you have computer skills, that you can stay at a job for more than 3 months, that you are motivated and dedicated to improving your Japanese skills. These can all be shown through various activities like study abroad, part time jobs, volunteer activities, and clubs. (ie. If you were the president of the Japanese club while you volunteered to tutor international students and holding down a part time job, you are probably a go-getter.)
  • When you get an interview, come with a translation sample in hand. It should be short (about a paragraph) and on a general topic. Something like a news brief would be appropriate. (Make sure you cite the document as well.) If your lack of experience comes up, you can tell them that you prepared a sample translation for them.
  • Do as much research about TRANSLATION as possible before the interview. Remember that they not only want to know that you can speak Japanese, they also want to know that you will be a competent translator. Emphasizing that you understand how important it is to stick close to the original meaning while producing a smooth native text, or talking about how Japanese cannot be translated word for word because the nuances come across differently in English, will make you sound like you know what you are talking about.

Doing other things

  • If you have tried over and over and still can’t land a job, it may be that you don’t have the right skill set or that you just don’t have enough experience. Look for some other jobs in a Japanese speaking environment. You could try a Japanese grocery store or restaurant, or you could look for a different kind of job in a Japanese company. Sometimes, Japanese companies will often look for engineers, secretaries, accountants, or HR people and say “Japanese skill is a plus.” If you can get a job like that it will help you grow and might give you a leg up on your next attempt to get a translator job.
  • If you have the means, ie you have a job that supports you but your hours are flexible, then you can try going freelance. Sometimes it can be a little easier to get a job this way. If you quote fairly cheaply, you can probably get a job. Then once you get one, it becomes easier to get more. Just do some research before you dive in. Make sure you know how to quote and try to keep to your area of expertise or to general topics. It would be better not to get a job than to get one and screw it up, turn it in late, or make a mistake that costs the client money to fix. If you want to research more about freelancing, ProZ has a wealth of information on the subject.
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.

Some Resources for New Interpreters

Some Resources for New Interpreters

When I started interpreting, I had no idea how to do it. My best guess was that you listen to what someone says and say it in the opposite language. I did that as much as I could but I missed some important points (see my post on the First Person). But then I went out and did a little bit of research, went through Bridging the Gap training, and most of all, hit up youtube. So, here are some of the videos I found helpful.

 

A Day in the Life of an Interpreter

 

 

通訳者が教える英語力アップ講座

This is mostly for Japanese but the points she makes can be applied to English as well. Also Simul Academy is one of the more popular translation/interpretation schools in Japan so its good to know about them.

 

 

Interpreter Training (Part 1)

 

In addition to these useful, though sometimes a little boring, videos there are many training opportunities available. I mentioned Bridging the Gap above. There are also some correspondence courses offered through DHC and Honda offers a interpreting workshop every year around June. (You kind of have to be hooked in to Honda for information on this one but I will try to post it when I find out more about this year’s workshop). Lastly, if you become a member of the Japan Association of Translators, there are tons of videos from previous conferences and panels that you can access.

That’s it for today. Happy Interpreting.