Month: 10月 2014

Assignment in Sheffield

I had a business assignment of two days, first day in London and then the second day in Sheffield.  The subject matter was “telematics” – have you all heard of telematics and been familiar with it?

It was all cutting edge, and both the talk and concepts were quite ‘edgy’  err – that was how I felt at the beginning, sorry! The agency told me it was an assignment from their regular client, a very major business consulting firm, and the purpose was – they said – market research.  

Later on, I received a few slide decks, and realised it was quite different from what I had imagined.  At a glance it looked pretty IT centric.  I can do engineering and IT unless it is uber complicated but I am not from scientific background.  

Science had been my second favourite subject in schools (schools!!) so I suppose I could say I am at least not science or maths phobic, but still, I am not someone who can confidently say yeah, that is my absolute strength.

Besides, ‘telematics’ involves quite an in-depth degree of computer science, algorithms, maths, analytics (yes, it is correctly spelt. It’s not analysis, it’s analytics) etc. I wish I was given a lecture about this field beforehand, even immediately before the commencement of the assignment! 

That’s how I felt at the beginning, but you’ll be surprised that our comprehension, our reformulating skills and anticipating skills come in play to rescue! You’d be such a quick learner. I felt I became an expert by the time the assignment finished. 

Of course, I couldn’t be the mathematician and actually do the maths but at least I had understood the concept and what was playing behind the scene. It is just that we are always wiser when it’s over. Yes, that is always the case, it’s a pity, isn’t it?

Having said that, this doesn’t always apply to every interpreter, I know. Some people are better at understanding certain things than others and others are better at understanding other things than some people. Likewise, some people are quicker to understand new things or different things, where others take longer.

When it comes to interpreters, I think this agility – should I say – is one of the abilities called for.  It is one of the ‘knack’ which determines success or survival in profession. 

Also, because it is a knack only so much can be taught, I mean it can’t be taught, really, but you could nurture the intuition through day to day efforts like be interested in what’s going on in the field and to have good enough level of general knowledge by doing well enough when you were in schools in those subjects.

This may sound a little contradictory and it is good to have a speciality, it can be a differentiator for you, but at the same time it is better and safer to be a generalist. When I talk about generalist, I am not talking about an ordinary generalist. 

We somehow need to train ourselves to be the generalist who can turn the general knowledge to the level of expertise in an instant – ideally – as it is called for.  Often enough, it can be a tall order.  

Imagine, if someone hired an interpreter who is not trained for court settings, and the interpreter heard ‘my learned friend’ they will not have a clue what that is.  They’ll be wondering “whose friend? what are they talking about?” 

I mean even an experienced interpreter or conference interpreter could make such mistakes.  A lot of people in general, when they hear ‘witness’ they immediately associate with ‘eye witness’ in legal terms.

When I interpret, I try to envisage a picture from what I heard. I actively listen to the speech and envision something, like a mind map, and that is the decoded message. Then I try to describe the picture or map in the target language. 

Obviously ‘normal’ listening doesn’t involve this much engagement, because it is passive listening, and that is normal, that is what everyone does, except interpreters.

In other words, if I couldn’t envisage a picture, I couldn’t interpret. I hear there is another type of interpreter who interprets without envisioning. I can’t quite grasp how they manage to do that but in my case I need to be able to see the logic and to imagine the structure to interpret.

It is like drawing a picture or map in mind.  By listening to the speech, draw route map, people’s names and product names would appear flashing like stations, and links indicate interchanges or junctions in the storyline, and then figures (numbers) will appear like the platforms or time of arrival or departure…

Now you can see how important to have this map or picture in mind for the interpreter.  Also, information such as where it has been stressed in a speech, emphasised by the tone of voice, little pause, eye contact, repetition etc.

They will be noted in our mind with * or ! and bold or CAPITALISED like a message that says “attention for engineering works.”  These non-verbal information or message will be incorporated, reflected into our rendering in the target language.  

If the speech is extremely poorly organised, then it is not organised I suppose however, having parallel routes emerging from no where which happens all the time, then we lose the track of logic, the track of speech.  

Also when the speaker is reading up the script and there is no feeling in the speech, the speaker doesn’t mean it because they’re just reading up the text and not feeling the message… 

On the other hand, when the speech is delivered like they mean it, when it is structured and spoken in a manner that is not too fast nor too slow, nor fragmented – these things make our job a lot easier. You know the phrase, don’t you? – “every little helps.”

So it is again a recurrent theme, nevertheless, it is dangerous when end users or in fact any stakeholders involved in the assignments misunderstand.  They’re probably simply lacking understanding the truth, and / or lacking appreciation of our profession, either way, they are risking their business outcome.

What’s happening in the ‘black box’ (in the head of interpreters) is a lot more complex and profound than simply being a conduit. Sometimes end clients say “madam interpreter, just translate word for word” or they certainly believe “it only takes a few languages to speak and anyone can interpret.”  

By the way, I had booked train in advance, so my return train to London was fixed.  It was cheaper, a fraction of the price of the open ticket.  However, had it rained a lot that day all day, my return train was cancelled (grrr).  I thought I wouldn’t be able to come home.  

This is rather a peripheral element, but certainly worth taking into account as an aspect of our profession. We are free agents, meaning we are on the move all the time. We work in one place today, and another the next day.

I managed to go further up north, to Doncaster, and then took an alternative train with a different train company.  Although many people disapprove of train services in the UK, and I am no exception (sorry!), when it comes to this kind of flexibility, I’m thinking Japan might not be as ‘understanding’ or ‘flexible’ as this.  That said, trains in Japan are punctual- hence far more reliable. Ah, thank you!

TED “Am I going to die?” the honest answer (マシュー・オライリー「私は死ぬのでしょうか?」真実を答える)


Hurray!! My first work on TED (ja subtitles) is out!!

※ 日本語字幕ビデオへのリンクは以下 ※

私がはじめて手がけた TED の字幕です。以前から TED Talks は興味を持って視聴していたので、さらに身近に感じるようになりました。





45 Life Lessons written by 90-old Woman (90歳の女性から―45の人生の教訓)

45 Life Lessons written by 90-old Woman

45個ある教訓のなかでも(Lessons を教訓と訳すとなんだか硬いですね・・・)とくに以下の9個は心に響きました。日本(人)にはおそらく存在しない発想のものがあります。26番がそうだな、とおもったのですが、相手がどう考えているか、あまり気にするのは、ある種失礼でもあるというような会話をイギリスの友人としたことがあります。とても意外でした。今は理解できますけど。相手の迷惑にならないように、とか相手が不快な思いをしているんじゃないか、とか慮るのは美徳でもあると思うのですが、悩みすぎるとこちらが参ってしまう、だからやめたほうがいい、という考え方はあっても、相手がどう思っているかは相手の勝手、相手の好きにさせておくべき、だから入り込んではいけない、というような発想は日本語?日本社会?にはないのではないか、と思ってしまいました。

04. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

06. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

07. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.

10. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.

17. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.

19. Burn the candles; use the nice sheets; wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

26. What other people think of you is none of your business.

29. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.

37.Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.








テレビが壊れて初めて実感したのが、私は最近、NHK の『テレビで~』を使ってスペイン語とフランス語の学習を始めたのだが、これができないのが非常に困る。スクールに通ってもいいんだけれど、最初からちゃんと行けるかどうかわからない、もっと言えば、ちゃんと続けられるかどうかわからない段階で、スクールに申し込むのは気が引ける。自分のやる気を確かめるという意味もあって、かのテレビ番組を使って始めることにしたのだ。これで続けられる手ごたえが掴めたら、そのときスクールに通い始めてもいいと考えたからだ。






以前、とある日本語のチャンネルに加入契約しTVボックスを付けてもらってアンテナだのなんだの、技師さんに来てもらったとき、まず困ったのが予約が取れない。日本ではありえないことじゃないでしょうか? そうでもないですかね? それで、やっと取れたと思ったら、一回目来て帰った後になって、ボックスに不具合があることが発覚。数時間つけてないと現れないエラーだったのです。


今のところ、新しいのを購入しようと思っていますが、今度は回収の問題。電気屋さんがいたときみたいに無料で回収してくれるサービスがあるといいんだけど、なさそう。ということは有料で回収? これも予約して、もしかしたら当日来なくて(イギリスではよくある)予約のし直しで・・・なんてことをやっていると、いつの話になるんだか、考えただけで気が遠くなります とほほ。


No mic, no documents, no complaints? For appearance sake!!

A friend of mine went to a concert of her favourite band the other day and she told me how fantastic it was.  As she told me her experience there, I started to think about our job – interpreter – in terms of a singer, from a singer or concert’s point of view.  I thought of many questions, such as

“Can you imagine a concert with no microphone?”
“Can you imagine a singer not knowing what to sing?”
“Can you imagine she wasn’t given the music or lyrics, either prior to the gig or even on the spot?”
“What if she was supposed to sing as she reads the lyrics as well as the music?”
“And she was expected to sing beautifully in such condition?”

I imagine, in most of the cases No would be the answer to all above questions. You simply wouldn’t expect anything like that in a concert, would you?
Interpreters are different from singers, but shouldn’t we all be respected equally? I mean above kind of things, equivalent things, happen to us frequently. Something of the sort one way or another all the time.

You go to the venue for an interpreting assignment and discover there is no microphone in a conference room where there will be around 100 attendees and also several interpreters sitting beside them.  If no microphone is what you discover almost as soon as the conference starts…  What would it make you think? Or what would this tell you about the assignment?

Let me summarise how it all started – don’t forget it is one of the typical situations in our line of work.  One day, I received a call from an agency.  I never worked with them before, by the way, and they asked me if I could take on a conference assignment in 10 days.  The field was technology, and it was a large internal conference of a very large media corporation.  I had some qualification and experience in media field, so I told them I can make myself available but on one condition.  I emailed them describing the condition, I clearly stated that I need ALL the slide decks and hand outs from ALL the people presenting and/or giving speeches BEFOREHAND.  If they fail to meet the condition, I could not accept the job and would cancel.

The agency responded they agreed and sent me the agenda for the event.  A few days passed, I sent follow-up email to the agency – no progress. A week before the event, I tried sending a reminder to them – no progress.  Every day after that I sent slightly more assertive email to them, I restated that I will have to withdraw.

They couldn’t provide any documents except the simple agenda but they couldn’t afford to be cancelled so they tried to come up with alternative solution. They asked one of the assigned interpreters who had worked for the same assignment for the past several years to meet with me.  So, we met up, the fellow interpreter told me about the end client and how it is usually.  It was helpful, in terms of comfort, but it couldn’t be too informative because the conference agenda is totally different each year.

The first discovery about the assignment was a negative sign signifying ‘bad organisation’ often goes hand in hand with ‘lack of understanding’ of our profession and ‘lack of appreciation’ as if it’s the cream on top.  Soon, we discovered there had been another Japanese interpreter that was booked but through a different route, and as far as they were concerned, it was a double booking, unnecessary cost.  The assignment was for 8-9 hours of chuchotage (whispering) each day, it was only practical and sensible to book two interpreters for each language combination but – no – they had had a number of global size conference every year, but they insisted on having only one interpreter for each language combination.  The agency told me no matter how many times they tried to convince their client that there should be two interpreters, they just wouldn’t listen, as if quality didn’t matter after all.  

I often hear that educating clients is pretty much part of our job.  Like many fellow interpreters, I suffer from and get frustrated with lack of knowledge, lack of understanding we find in our (end) clients.  It is true that they are who ultimately suffer from the consequence, however, it may not be as critical to them as it seems to us, interpreting professionals.  It seems to me as if there are different (hidden) agenda in having interpreters there for them.

What they care the most sometimes seems as if it is to say that they provided interpreters for the attendees, they at least respected the importance of the language being available and they provided that, so they can’t be blamed or held liable later on that “but I didn’t understand the language (and it is a discrimination)” – yes, I am saying it seems as if our presence was used as a risk hedge.

Lack of appreciation is a problem I often face.  I’d like to think the Japanese (language) interpreter is the only one that exceptionally suffers from this, because I see many (end) clients or users who say things which shows how little they understand and how little respect they have towards our profession.  This tendency is not only prevalent among Anglophones but also Japanese speakers too.
Be it in Japan or in the UK, client with English almost non-existent or even fluent in English – surprisingly – it doesn’t make much difference when it comes to lack of appreciation in other words a lot of them seem to think it only takes to speak a few languages to do interpreting and it is a soon-be-obsolete occupation anyway…!?

There is another issue, this is rather a very critical issue for corporations, much more relevant to companies than to ourselves in terms of impact should it be infringed, and that is confidentiality.  I think it is fair to say they actually don’t want to need interpreters.  A lot of people feel bringing in interpreters is costing money to elongate their meetings.  In this kind of people’s minds, it is something to avoid if they could.  They don’t want to have to have interpreters, but they cannot take the risk to be held liable but their unspoken message is “Japanese participants, learn English!”  If that could be the case, then the penny drops, our quality of performance didn’t really matter, as long as they made the language available ostensibly.

At the end of the day, it’s not a matter of life and death like surgical operation done on themselves. Nor a matter that the performance could determine their course of life, it doesn’t affect their individual life like in a law suit – it usually doesn’t threaten their career if interpreters fail.  They would quite happily blame us for any problems or complaints in communication.  Is there a way to turn the tables?


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