Interpreter Training Tapes

Interpreter Training Tapes

I found a wonderful resource of old interpreting tapes on Youtube. They are probably from the 70s and a little slow paced, but they have great practice exercises (starting around 2b). Also, you will get to hear Nishiyama Sen-sensei around 30a, so that is exciting. If you don’t know that name, you really should. He is basically the father of J<>E simultaneous interpreting.



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.


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.



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.

Plateauing in Your Japanese Study

Plateauing in Your Japanese Study


I have read several articles recently about plateauing in your Japanese study. (Tofugu, Japanalicious, and The Japan Times articles come to mind) Basically, a plateau is a wall you hit in your studies, usually at intermediate level (though some people hit it earlier). It can be hard to overcome. The articles I linked above give great tips on how to get over this wall. But I have actually experienced a couple different plateaus that I wanted to discuss here. If you have hit any others, please feel free to chime in.

1. The Kana Plateau

A lot of people give up when they hit this first wall. You learn, or try to learn all hiragana and katakana only to find that you still can’t “read” Japanese because of all the kanji. Then, on top of that, you learn that all kana sentences are nearly impossible to read. You get frustrated and a lot of people quit at this point.

2. The Aisatsu Plateau

You have learned to say your 自己紹介 and your basic conversations. Japanese people are impressed by you. But, once you exhaust your pre-memorized phrases, you are lost. You cannot actually hold a conversation (unless that conversation is about whether the book is under or on the table.) You get frustrated because the amount of topics that can possibly come up in a conversation seem endless and all involve words you don’t know.

3. The Kanji Compound Plateau

You have mastered basic conversation skills. You have had many different conversations and you know what kind of topics are likely to come up when you meet someone. You can make appointments with friends and you are feeling pretty confident in your Japanese. Then, you watch the news. You know the word 入れる but 入力? What’s that? 怖い>恐縮, ありがとう>感謝しています, 手に入れる>入手?! Suddenly the world is full of “shu” and “sou” and you know they are kanji compounds that you are hearing but you have no idea what they mean. Was that nyushu or nyuushu or nyuushuu? This can be the most frustrating stage and keeps a lot of people from progressing from intermediate to advanced.

4. The College/Career Plateau

You have conquered the basic kanji compounds. The news doesn’t scare you anymore. You have started to read native language material. Then, you go take college classes in Japan or go to work for a Japanese company. Suddenly, you realize how much you don’t know. The problem is, you have hit the wall where not everything can be solved with a dictionary. Some of what you are hearing/reading is abbreviations (the first and third kanji of a longer compound), some of it is proper names and places that you don’t know, some of it is just modern lingo or technical terms that you can’t look up. At this stage you have to start turning to 国語 dictionaries and websites. You can’t rely on English definitions anymore. You have to let your L1 go.

I have hit this last plateau multiple times. You feel confident going into a meeting, but then you realize, not only do you know nothing about finance and stocks in Japanese, you know very little about it in English. This will blow your mind the first time it happens. But once you start to function as if you were a native speaker of Japanese and start using resources made for Japanese native speakers, it will get better.


Again, if you have any other plateaus to add to the list, please chime in.

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.

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.

ビジネス能力検定: The best choice I made to improve my target language skill

ビジネス能力検定: The best choice I made to improve my target language skill

A few months ago, I read Food for Translators‘ blog about how to improve your source language proficiency. Since, I am the only translator in my company, I do a lot of E>J not just J>E. Its important for me to produce well written business documents in Japanese. I considered my weak points on this topic and, taking the first tip from the blog “Study for an exam designed for native speakers”, decided to study for the ビジネス能力検定. I know very little about business in general. While I have no intention of taking the test, I thought it would help me write and talk about my company in Japanese better.

I was right. It has been one of the most useful things I have chosen to study; far better than the JLPT or BJT. Not only is it fully of great business buzz words, it is made for Japanese people, so it is the right tool to help you toward native level communication. I would recommend it to anyone out there who is starting their first translator or bilingual Japanese job.

Using correct words vs. Using words a Japanese person would use

Using correct words vs. Using words a Japanese person would use

I just got off interpreting for 4 hours straight so this might not be the best time to write this out but it just kind of came to me. 

I have been hard on my self for what I have been calling “not using the right word”. For example, I interpret “production increased” into 「生産が増加しまた」. Then when I hear the Japanese speaker say 「増産」I think I have used the wrong word. Why would I make it into a sentence when there is already a word for it? However, (leaving aside the various slight differences of meaning) my translation was not wrong. It was just not what that particular Japanese person chose to use when speaking about it. That is why you can say: 部品を作りました、部品を生産しました、部品を製造しました and be generally right. Each of these has a slight difference in meaning but at base, they all mean “to make”. Most native speakers, if they are not grammar nazis, don’t notice the minor differences in meaning. They understand the intended meaning perfectly. While another translator (or a Japanese person who got 100% on the 日本語検定1級 like my boss, *grumble, grumble*) might notice the difference and tell you you used the wrong word, it really doesn’t make a difference to the average listener. They still think your Japanese is “perfect” because they understood every word and your pronunciation was clear and in the right tense. They are not looking for these small differences in meaning. 

Or at least, that is my impression from being told I am perfect by many people, and then having every word I use pulled apart by one other person (what exactly is the difference between プロセス流れand工程フロー anyway?). I have been trying to reconcile the two opinions and this is what I came up with. Let me know if you have any similar experiences.