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.

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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.