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.

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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.

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.