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

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.

Honda Interpreter Training

Honda Interpreter Training

So, I went to Honda’s Interpreter Training Seminar yesterday and wanted to share with my readers (which I don’t think are actually out there) some of the information that was presented. This is an overview and please understand that I did not come up with any of the information on my own. Most of it is well established interpretation theory.

Before we go into this too much, I want to make sure that everyone understands one fundamental thing: translation is written, interpretation is spoken.

Methods of Interpretation

There are four main forms of interpretation:

  1. Simultaneous Interpretation (SI)- Where you interpret what is being said a few seconds behind the speaker. This way your interpretation doesn’t take up any more time than it takes the speaker to complete his sentence (more or less). This is used in various different settings: meetings, interviews, etc.
  2. Consecutive Interpretation (CI)- Where you wait until the speaker stops to interpret what he has said. Ideally, the speaker will stop every few sentences but sometimes CI requires you to take notes for several minutes and then interpret the entire message. This is sometimes less of a strict interpretation and more of a summary, though it is important never to deviate from the original message. However, since you have more time to grasp the full message of the speaker, it can be more precise because you won’t make mistakes half way through the sentence and have to correct yourself. For that reason, it is the favored method for medical and some legal interpretation. Additionally, people who have trouble speaking and listening at the same time may find CI easier.
  3. Whispering– SI done for one to three people. This method is used when only a handfull of people in a large group need the interpreter. Rather than stand in the front of the room, the interpreter sits behind the person or persons and whispers the interpretation to them. (*Note: do not take “whisper” too litterally. A lot of my clients have had bad hearing and “whispering” was not an option)
  4. Sight Translation– This is the oral interpretation of a written document. Basically someone hands you a document in language A and you, as you read it, verbalize what it says in language B.

Skills Needed to be and Interpreters

  1. A strong sense of duty – You need to be responsible for your own preparation, study, and presentation. You must be contentious of whether the listeners understand your interpretation. You must put all effort into rendering an accurate translation. You must abide by the ethical guidelines for interpreters.
  2. A good command of the languages involved
  3. An encyclopedic knowledge – Just because you know a lot of Japanese doesn’t mean you will be able to handle every interpreting situation. It is very very hard to interpret something that you yourself do not understand. So its important to know at least a little bit about a lot of things.
  4. Acute hearing
  5. Good articulation
  6. Note-taking skills –  During consecutive interpretation, you don’t have time to take notes the way you would in a high school or college class. Its important to familiarize yourself with the established methods for CI note-taking. (See this article for more.)
  7. A good memory – Essential with CI because you simply can’t write everything down.
  8. Quick and accurate responses

9 Interpreting Errors

  1. Omission – Leaving out a word that the speaker used.
  2. Addition – Adding a word that the speaker didn’t use.
  3. Substitution – Exchanging one word for another, and thereby changing the meaning.
  4. Conceptual Error – Literal word for word translation that doesn’t mean the same thing in the target language.
  5. Lexical Error – Wrong word
  6. Grammar/Syntax Error – Wrong grammar
  7. Distortion – Twisting the original meaning (whether by mistake (ex. wrong word or grammar) or on purpose (ex. to soften the blow of what was said))
  8. Register – Not matching the speaker’s level of formality
  9. Para-linguistic Features – Not adding important “non-words” (like “eh” “um”) that were used by the speaker and give nuance to the original message.

The first 3 are the most important and the trickiest. For example,

好感度がアップする「美しい姿勢」の作り方』 –

How to get “Beautiful Posture” that will improve your reputation

So, in the translation of this article title we have substitutions and additions (I couldn’t find a good title that would let me omit something). But, they are for a reason. In English, we don’t say “make posture”, we use the verb “get” or “have”. This was necessary so as not to make a lexical error in English. Next, we have アップする. While English does have some similar phrases like “level up” or “boost”, the general intended meaning of アップする is “to improve”. Substitutions like this are often needed with カタカナ語 even though they sound like they are English.

There are also a billion other ways that this could be translated and still be right. As it is a newspaper article, you could go with something like “Improving your posture to boost your reputation.” It all depends on what your client wants. But, when you are interpreting, its important to stick fairly close to the original. And its vital to never add, change, or omit ANYTHING that will give the sentence a different meaning.