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Finding the words...Some translating advice

By: Steven Rollins

Date Posted: 1998-09-04

Anyone who speaks English and Japanese knows how confusing it can be to try to get the same idea across from one language to the other. Meanings get confused. Words are lost. Sometimes feeling can be hurt by unintentional mistakes. Following some basic guidelines though, some common errors can be avoided. Yukiko Toma, 30, a translator for a Urasoe construction company, offers the following advice for English and Japanese translations.

"First," she says, "speaking the other language (for her - English) is not enough. To do efficient translating, you should have technical knowledge in the area" She explains that often in English, the same word can have many meanings. This is true even in related fields. In her case, she thinks she could translate faster if her college degree were in Engineering rather than Psychology. Next, she instructs you to know your native language well. "This is vital," she presses, as often, in translating, it is necessary to find the one word that properly conveys the exact meaning . "It is hard enough trying to do this with another language," she goes on to say, "without having to do it in your native language as well."

Toma also advises people to learn the culture of the other language; the best ways she has found are to receive formal training in the language and to immerse yourself in its culture. Toma, for example, added to her high school English by going to a junior college in Canada for nearly two years.

Upon her return to Okinawa, she attended the University of Maryland (UM) which required her to read, write, and speak almost exclusively in English on a regular basis as well as speak conversationally with Americans. Additionally, she passed the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to attend UM, and, she took the Eiken and Kokuren Eiken for job qualifications. But she cautions that though tests are good estimates of general knowledge, they do not aid in translating skill as well as cultural knowledge and language use.

Yukiko gives the following quick check list for your translating assistance:

From Japanese to English

*Don't forget articles (a, an, the)., pronouns (he, she, her, him, his, hers, etc). These are often left out in Japanese but almost always included in English.

*Use specific language. Americans speak more directly than Japanese. It may be necessary to go back to ask for more information from the Japanese originator.

From English to Japanese

Sometimes it's difficult to translate "politely." Try to make sure the English does not offend accidentally without changing the overall intent of the English originator.

For both

*Translate MEANING not word-for word. Some words have no direct translation and even when they do, the language rules are different.

*Double-check your translations, with a native language speaker whenever possible.

Finally, Toma describes the translating field as difficult but fun. The work is challenging and often requires extensive research to be completed in short deadlines. Her most important lesson, she says is, "Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Just don't repeat them."

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