On a recent (uncommonly) cold Hong Kong winter, we had a warm coffee with our Japanese interpreter team and they shared their Behind The Scene stories as professional interpreter.
More Than Just a Japanese Language Interpreter
Language Interpreting is defined as “to change what someone is saying into another language” by Cambridge Dictionary.
However, as a professional interpreter, interpreting is not just about mastering a different language and specific industry keywords. It also requires an understanding of the country’s (in this case Japan) local knowledge, possessing ability to handle pressure, interpersonal skill and maturity, as well as a strong memory and deductive skill.
As Japanese interpreter, they need to have an understanding of cultural differences, as well as their geographical influence, such as from Kanto (Eastern part of Japan) and Kansai (Western part of Japan). Although in formal business meetings clients will likely use standard Japanese, on less formal meetings they will sometimes use the local dialects. For example in an informal meeting, a Kansai based client asked “How much is it?” in local dialect, and this sensitivity to local dialects can help to increase the speed of interpreting process and smoothen the conversation flow.
As professional interpreter, there is also a need in maintaining calmness and neutrality (not to take sides in the negotiation even though the pressure is on), especially when one party is pushing on sensitive subjects, like loyalty to fellow countrymen.
Or when the two negotiating parties were involved in heated argument, this situation required not only a delicate skill in choosing a softer words to explain without changing the meaning, but also a maturity and excellent interpersonal skill because the anger was expressed and pointed to the interpreter instead.
There are also times where the clients are talking in long sentences. This will require another good memory and deductive skill, to not missing out the essence during this lengthy conversation.
On the other hand, not all projects are high tension ones. It can also be a happy and touching experience, like during a wedding when a Chinese bride prepared a beautiful wedding speech for her husband and she needed the speech to be interpreted to Japanese for the groom’s family. It was a beautiful interpretation that the groom’s family felt the sincerity and love expressed from the speech, and this is definitely a different type of achievement that can be felt as an interpreter.