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.

Planning for the future

Planning for the future

I have been a translator and interpreter for two years and four months. I started working as a bilingual office administrator with only a JLPT N2 as qualification. Two years and one job change later, I am ready to pass, no, decimate the N1 this December. But other than that, I will still be without qualifications.

I understand that translation is one of those things that comes with experience. The more you do it, the more you learn, the better you get. But there are people out there who have done it much longer than I have. Surely I could learn a lot from them. The problem is…I can’t find them.

Here is what I have learned about T&I education that is related to Japanese:

Schools in Japan:

There are several T&I schools in Japan. These are small specialized schools that crank out interpreters at record pace. I cannot say much about the impressions that businesses may have about interpreters trained at these schools. But, it does seem that the most popular one is Simul Academy.  Another thing about these 専門学校 is that they are often broken down by type of T&I. Basically, that breaks down to: subtitling, conference interpreting, tour guide interpreting, and general or technical interpreting and translation. There are some other categories, like pharma translation, that have become huge lately, but the main areas are those listed above. You can use the TsuHon if you are interested in finding more schools in Japan.

Schools in the US and other countries:

There are a few schools that are known for interpreter training. The most famous one is the Monterey Institute. It is famous for training the world’s best interpreters. However, like most other programs in the US and abroad, this school only offers master’s degrees. There are many programs throughout the US that offer short program training in Spanish interpreting, as that is our second most widely spoken language here, but you will be hard pressed to find one that trains in Japanese.

Correspondence courses:

Much to my surprise, these are few and far between as well. Babel University offers a correspondence masters degree but it is very hard to get any information from them and I am not sure they are a reliable school. DHC offers online and correspondence classes but no comprehensive program. ALC has a correspondence program but doesn’t offer any support. And so on and so on.

Basically, if you are a Japanese translator and interpreter in the US, you do not have a lot of options. But that brings us to the next question: How much training do you really need for a profession that you already have?

When I attended iJET a few years ago, I asked a question to the general assembly about freelancers. I prefaced it with a comment about how I was new and hadn’t even completed N1. The response I got was a general scoff. Not because I hadn’t done it but because most of the scoffers didn’t think much of the test. Most of them, like me, had fallen into this profession because they could speak a fair amount of Japanese and someone needed a translator at that moment. Where as most of the Japanese translators I know went through schooling and spent hours to get a certain level of TOEIC just so businesses (and other Japanese) would take them seriously. I suppose I have always adopted the later attitude toward my profession rather than the former. I have always said, “Just because I am an American doesn’t excuse me from meeting Japanese expectations.” If an employer would expect X out of a Japanese employee, I don’t want them to ever say “Oh, well its ok that she doesn’t have that qualification, she’s an American.” It may be naive to throw away the gaijin card, I just hate preferential treatment.

Anyway, I don’t know how I will go about getting some kind of qualification, but as this is the beginning of my third year, I figure its about time to start. I don’t think I have any readers out there, but if there are, I would appreciate any advice you have.