Practice along with me: Word Chaining

Practice along with me: Word Chaining


In my last post, I explained how to use Word Chaining to practice memorizing random words; which will help you get better at interpreting.

I stumbled upon a website that is great for that. Brain Connection’s Word Recall Game will show you a series of random words – each for a few seconds. Then it stops and asks you to write down as many as you remember, before showing you the answers. It is the perfect format for practicing Word Chaining. Give it a try today!

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!


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.

Knowing your material

Knowing your material

An article in the latest 通訳・翻訳ジャーナル(春号)brought up a very interesting point. As an interpreter, it is not enough to simply look up the words you will need to know. You have to also understand the company, their goals and philosophies, as well as what they do. But more than that, you have to understand the subject matter. No matter how many words you memorize, if you don’t truly understand what is being talked about, you won’t be able to interpret it successfully.

This makes the interpreter’s job even harder than some people might think. Lets say you get a job doing medical interpretation. You know that the appointment is going to be about diabetes. You need to not only memorize the words related to diabetes, but you also need to understand all the implications that having diabetes has on your life, the different kinds of diabetes, different types of treatment, etc. And then, when the doctor comes in and says something way out of left field (like he thinks you should eat lots of fruit), even though your research has told you otherwise, you still need to interpret exactly what the doctor says. We need to be informed. But no matter how much we think we know, we cannot interfere. Our role is conduit of information. We are not meant to give our opinions. Who knows, maybe some study just came out that says specific fruit in specific doses will improve the body’s insulin production. I’m just saying. Remember, you need to learn, not to input your opinions, but to be able to say what the speaker says clearly and comprehensibly.