Japanese Language

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“We only run 20 feet, dry.”

A bilingual person of English and Japanese would not have a problem of taking the above sentence as it reads. But the person could be puzzled at what it means….

“What? They cannot run more than 20 feet without getting sweat?”

conyardlbInterpreters, however, have no problem of understanding the correct meaning of the sentence.  We know that it is talking about containers used for surface transportation.  It says they run 20 ft dry containers, but not 40 ft, nor reefer containers.  Because of this knowledge, we can correctly interpret the verb “run” into a suitable Japanese word in the context.  Oh, for your information, “run 100 m”, “run business” and “run a program”, these “run” are put into different Japanese words.

Interpretation and translation, after all, is not about being bilingual, but about having comprehensive knowledge in the subject matter in two (or more) languages. And this is one of the first basic things we learn in a training course to become a professional.

Having so said, I have no intention to argue that it’s inappropriate to hire a bilingual person. It just depends on a particular situation; a bilingual high school student might be just fine for casual chatting among students, but maybe not for business negotiation.

And, there is one other thing that differentiates trained interpreters from bilingual persons, which you might want to know if you are to hire an interpreter. I will try to explain in the following.

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When you hire an interpreter for the first time, please do not assume that the interpreter is the one who will introduce you to the party you are going to meet. Interpreters never speak ahead of you, unless you have specifically instructed the interpreter to do so.  This is because interpreters are trained to be a shadow of clients, and not to be a mediator or a facilitator.

In order to explain the reason behind it, let me first make it clear the difference between interpretation and translation, just in case that you are new to linguistic services: Interpreters are for oral communication and translators are for writing. In Japan, different training courses are offered for each career path, including the one of subtitle translators.

Now, the major difference between interpretation and translation is about “explanation”. While interpreters are NOT allowed to add any explanation, translators add translation notes whenever the translator feels it’s necessary. Interpretation, by nature, has no room for such addition, and interpreters are trained NOT to do so.

Let me be more specific about this “explanation” thing. Should an interpreted and delivered sentence to you was something like, “He said, he did something” , it is not an interpretation, but it’s an explanation. If the person interpreted had said “I did something”, interpreters are trained to say exactly the same in the target language. Likewise, if the person used dirty words, an interpreter is expected to convert those words into the target language as they are, and not just explain that the person used dirty words. Why? Because when it comes to highly sensitive negotiations or in the courtroom, for example, what’s been said or not and its implications are all that matter. What happens if interpreters, at their discretion, add something that’s not been told?

So, this is the very nature of interpretation in “the conventional definition”. In other words, the interpreter whom you hired is “you” who talks in the target language. When you are in a meeting, therefore, you talk, in your language, to your counterpart, not to your interpreter. Interpreters are trained exactly for this purpose. They are always behind the two parties like a shadow.

If you are looking for the professional & conventional type of interpreters, don’t waste your time to stay on this website. There are a number of agents in Japan, including Simul International, Inter Group and Japan Convention Services, which are the major players in this arena.

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SC1094“Interpreter Guide” is a licensed profession and may be unique to Japan. In order to provide a tour guide service in foreign languages, a person must pass the national qualification exam and be registered with the prefectural government. There is no such regulation in providing interpreting or translating services in other areas.

Many agents deem Interpreter Guide entry level of interpreting professions. It could be put that way, but doing guide is entirely different from interpreting. Guides are expected to “explain” things, even before their clients ask questions. They also suggest what to eat, where to go next, make reservations for transportation and accommodation if necessary, and may even manage timetable to make sure that their clients fully enjoy the visit.

So, Interpreter Guide is more of a “facilitator”, which is the opposite end of being a “shadow”, the conventional meaning of an interpreter.