Interpreter Training in Columbus

Interpreter Training in Columbus

IMAG0056The Japan Association of Translators is running a great seminar called The Japanese Automotive T&I Seminar. This is a continuation of the Honda seminar that I had blogged about a few years ago. It is going to have two very experienced instructors.

If anyone out there is in my area and interested, you should definitely join us on September 1, 2016.

See details below:–tickets-26413062180


Practice along with me

Practice along with me

I put together a practice schedule to help me polish the basic skill set that goes into translation and interpretation. I will put the schedule up here and then post occasional progress updates. Feel free to practice along with me and post any resources you found particularly helpful.



  1. Improve memory and recall skills.
  2. Improve concept understanding and retention.
  3. Improve number recollection.


  1. Phrase more flexibly.
  2. Improve Japanese writing style.


  1. Increase vocabulary.
  2. Increase grammar knowledge.

Practice Tasks

  Task Applicable Objective
1 10 digit number memorization I-3
2 Number interpretation I-3
3 Word chaining I-1
4 Phrase memorization I-1, T-1, G-1, G-2
5 Quick word interpreting I-1, G-1
6 Shadowing I-2, T-1, G-1, G-2
7 Consecutive practice I-1, I-2
8 Translation editing T-2, G-1, G-2

Explanation of Tasks

1.      10 digit number memorization

Listen to a recording of ten unrelated numbers. Repeat as the recording plays. Then, play the recording again and wait until the first two numbers have been said to start repeating. This way, you are hearing numbers and saying different numbers.


Recording: “1, 5, 33, 47, 118…”

You:             “……….1, 5, 33, 47, 118…”

2.      Number interpretation

Listen to a recording of random numbers (over 6 digits) and interpret them into the opposite language.

3.      Word chaining

Memorize a series of random words by forming a story in your head as you hear them.

4.      Phrase memorization

Memorize sentences from JLPT N1 vocabulary book. Repeat the previous one before starting to memorize the next.

5.      Quick word interpreting

Prepare a list of 10 words in Japanese and English. Look at each word in the Japanese column and say the English version. Repeat with opposite language. Time target of 10 seconds to interpret the whole list (ie: no time to think about it).

6.      Shadowing

Listen to a speech and repeat the speaker’s words as he is speaking without changing or missing any words. This is done in the language of the presenter (ex: listen to Japanese and repeat in Japanese).

7.      Consecutive practice

Listen to a 5 minute speech and take notes. Interpret after speech has concluded. Record your interpretation. Re-watch speech and check for errors.

8.      Translation editing

Take an old translation and remove any confidential content (company names, etc.) Post on lang-8 to solicit corrections. Compile revised version in translation notebook.

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!


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.

Boosting L1 Skills for Translating and Interpreting

Boosting L1 Skills for Translating and Interpreting

This is based on「日本語力強化大作戦」『通訳翻訳ジャーナル』2013年1月号 (WINTER)


This article posits that, at least in the world of translation, there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” language. What is most important is that the language used in the translation is appropriate for the field, target audience, medium, etc.

Industrial Translation

Unlike literary translation, industrial translation texts need to be clear and logical, and adhere closely to the original. The translation must also make sense to the reader. In order to achieve that, you must understand the particular document’s field, content, and intended audience. If the document is meant for internal use, you can use more terminology, company-specific words, and abbreviations. However, if the intended audience is outside the company, it may be more important give a non-literal, meaning based, translation to make the content more comprehensible.

Often, translation in this field comes down to “literal and comprehensible” or “non-literal but easy to understand.” The best translators, according to the article, can do both. They are able to keep a literal, one to one correlation between the English and Japanese while creating an easy to read, natural sounding text. Good translators are often bold when it comes to the structure of the sentence, but are very cautious with the terminology.

Improving Target Language Skills for Industrial Translation

Phrasing and terminology are key in this field. The best way improve your L1 proficiency in this area is to read a lot of articles from that field, collect example sentences, build your TM, and then imitate those examples in your translation. We often think of doing this in our L2, borrowing sentences that we have heard before, but less so when writing in our L1. Yet it is very important for this type of translation. Additionally, terminology and phrasing can vary by company so it’s important to know what terms are used in the company you are translating for. Press releases and messages from the CEO will help you understand the tone and phrasing used by that company.


Interpreting requires equal proficiency in both languages. However, in interpreting, it is crucial that you understand what is being said. If you can take a complex discourse spoken in your L1 and change it into simple comprehensible L2 discourse, that is good. However, if you don’t understand the content, even though it is in your native language, you will not produce a good L2 interpretation. So it’s important to have good skills in phrasing and a wide knowledge base. A good interpreter will be able to take what is said by the speaker, scrape away the unnecessary words and 口癖, and produce a simple, natural, beautiful sentence in an instant.

In interpreting, TPO must always be considered, especially for Japanese. “Would you like to get dinner?” for example, would be interpreted very differently between two coworkers and between a subordinate and the president of the company. It would also be different if they were in a bar vs. in an office. Appropriate language for every TPO, both in the L1 and L2, must be mastered.

Improving Native Language Skills for Interpretation

Since natural phrasing is so important in interpretation, you should always be looking out for interesting phrases and writing them down as they come up. Also, it’s important to look up any words you come across in your native language that you don’t understand. This will help you broaden your knowledge base. In addition, it can be good to shadow the news in your native language to get used to formal discourse.

Interpreters must never forget to keep reading. Everything. The more you read, the more your knowledge base and vocabulary grow. Interpreters should read not only newspapers or magazines, but also novels, because they are a great source of spoken dialogue.

Meaning, not words

Meaning, not words


One of the most difficult things to remember when translating is that you must focus on the meaning, not the words. The picture above is a great example of this. I’m sure the person who made it thought that they were “translating ‘Hello'” into many different languages. However, that is not entirely accurate. “Hello” in American English is a neutral greeting. It puts some distance between you and the target of the greeting, compared to the relative closeness of the term “Hey.” However, it is also formality and time neutral. こんにちはis also of relatively neutral formality, but it is more akin to “good afternoon” (in that it has a variant: こんばんわ) and is appropriate only at a certain time of day. That being said, “Hello” is used commonly when picking up the telephone in English, for which こにちわ in Japanese would be inappropriate. “Ciao” can mean “hello” or “goodbye.”  你好 is both “hello” and “how are you?” Even the translation of a simple word like “hello” varies by time of day, target of greeting, professional level of the speaker in reference to that target, medium of communication, etc. TPO!

So, when you are translating (or interpreting) it’s important to focus on the meaning of what’s being said. Too often (especially in E>J) I will see a word and say to myself, ‘I don’t know how to say that word in Japanese’ so I will spend several minutes finding the appropriate Japanese translation of an English word, only to find that, when I get the sentence all put together, it doesn’t make any sense in context. Then I end up changing it to words that I already knew because they reflect the meaning better.

Just remember, being true to the original means reflecting the meaning of the original in the target language, without dropping any aspect of that meaning. It does not mean making sure that every word used in the original is used in the target. That makes for a wordy and confusing translation.

Read more

The Translator as a Writer

The Translator as a Writer

The following is the text of an email sent by John Stroman, an experienced patent translator, to the JAT mailing list. There have been a lot of discussions about the advantages of native speakers in certain aspects of translation and I thought this email hit the nail on the head.

Nishiyama Sen once described the ideal interpreter as a window, an almost invisible entity lying between the source and the recipient that allows the source image to pass through to the recipient with as little distortion as possible.

I think the same concept holds true for the ideal translator.

Rather than hurling bricks, I think we should take a step back and remember that translating is a subset of professional writing just as interpreting is a subset of professional speaking, but with the added condition that because two different languages are involved, the image passing through the window will inevitably be distorted, much like the fuzzy images we see of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

Even among native speakers, some people obviously write and/or speak better than others. Generally people who are very proficient in their native language will also become very proficient in a foreign language if given enough time and opportunity to learn one, AND they are highly motivated. They can become bilingual specialists, but their language skills will rarely be perfectly balanced.

So let’s abandon the notion that a native speaker of the target language will always translate more competently than a non-native speaker. Such a person may write better than a non-native speaker, but not necessarily. Some people are just poor writers in their native language. Conversely, a native speaker of the source language will likely have better comprehension, but may not be able to express concepts as smoothly as a native speaker of the target language or may not be as astute mechanically. A professional translator (i.e., professional writer) who is a native speaker of the target language can be expected to make fewer mechanical errors in the translated output, but one who is a native speaker of the source language can be expected to comprehend the source language better. Choose your poison.

Different translation tasks require different levels of comprehension and output. Several years ago I was asked to review the J>E translation of a chemical patent by a very prominent NES translator. The translation was beautifully written; in fact, much more eloquently than I could have done. In the examples section, however, the translator wrote that chemical A was added to a solution containing chemical B although anyone with a chemistry background would immediately grasp that such a procedure would result in an explosion.  The original Japanese simply stated that the two were added and mixed together, so no true chemist would make that kind of mistake, but the translator lacked such a background and “improved” the Japanese sentence to make it sound better in English.

Many people with some competence in a foreign language are either forced by their employers to translate, or they mistakenly become freelance translators even though they cannot comprehend the source language really well and/or are poor writers in the target language. Give me a biomedical translation, and I’m right at home. Telecommuncations or finance?  Forget about it. I don’t understand these fields at a high enough level in my native language.

I think the most we can say when we encounter a bad translation is that the translator was ill-equipped to handle the job, and we can only speculate about the reason.

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.


  • 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.

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.