Posts Tagged ‘Japanese Language’

Blaming the translators

Posted 17 Sep 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japan, Japanese Language, Work

My job is not something that I usually write about, partly because it’s not all that interesting, and partly because doing so brings up a lot of frustrating incidents that I’d rather forget. Besides, there are plenty of other people, such as Mr Salaryman, who already do a very good job of writing about Japanese office life. Today, however, I feel like whinging about work. So if you don’t like whinging, you should stop reading now.

Recently my company began using professional translators to translate Japanese materials into English. This sounds like a good idea in practice, as it should remove the possibility of misunderstandings between Japanese and English speaking staff. However, translating and understanding are two very different things.

If you’ve ever studied a foreign language you’ve probably come across phrases or expressions for which there really isn’t an English equivalent. Japanese, for example, contains a variety of set phrases, such as 「お世話になっております」(“Osewa ni natte orimasu” or “Thank you for your help”), that are frequently used at the beginning of Japanese emails but sound odd in English. Usually these phrases are not a barrier to understanding: it’s simply a matter of either leaving them out or replacing them with something simple, such as “I hope you are well”. The major problem with work I’ve seen translated recently is not with the translation itself, but with the original Japanese text. In a lot of cases, the author doesn’t seem to have had a clue who he/she was writing for.

For me, brevity is a virtue; for many of my colleagues, it is a sin. They love to use obscure technical terminology and company jargon. Rather than explain something in a simple way, like “This software will reduce the amount of time users spend on data entry”, they will write “This software aims to boost the productivity of users by recalibrating their workflow practises from data entry to other activities” instead. This may be fine for a Japanese audience that understands newspeak, but it is incomprehensible to the intended English-speaking audience. And rather than consult someone in the office who knows how much of the translations English speakers will understand, “them upstairs” choose to send them directly to satellite offices abroad, unedited and un-localised.

As you can imagine, this lack of audience awareness and consultation causes an enormous amount of trouble. When misunderstandings arise – and they often do – a “poor” translation is blamed. This implies that the original Japanese text is perfectly fine, though often the writers cannot rephrase their ideas in plain Japanese, never mind plain English. It also leads to a bizarre situation where the writers think they are “too clever” for mere mortals to understand, and the mere mortals are made to feel stupid because they can’t make head nor tail of the gobbledegook presented to them.

In the end, most people feign understanding during meetings and devise their own explanations later; very much in the same way a clever, rational Alabaman kid might deal with “science” lessons on creationism. What frightens me about the whole thing is the amount of time and money that’s wasted because some people are either unwilling or unable to communicate properly.

The joys of ordering food and drink in Japanese

Posted 29 Jul 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japan, Japanese Language, Only in Japan

A chain café in Japan. Lunchtime:

“Welcome! Customer, will you be eating in?”
“Yes.”
“Very good. What would you like?”
“I’d like a medium-sized café latte, please.”
“A… sorry, what was that?”
“A café late, please. Medium size.”
“One café latte! What size?”
“Medium – ’Em’ size – please.”
“Okay! That’ll be ¥360. Please wait by the counter for your drink.”

Two minutes later, by the counter:

“Here you are. One small ice coffee.”

New Japanese Language Proficiency Test to be introduced in 2010

Posted 03 Aug 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japanese Language, News, Work

Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES) and The Japan Foundation, who are jointly responsible for the administration of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) , have announced that the current testing system is to revised by June 2010.

At present there are four tests to choose from, with level 1 being the most difficult. There have been many complaints from examinees that the gap – in terms of difficulty – between levels 3 and 2 is too large: to pass level 3 examinees need to know about 300 kanji, compared to 1000 for level 2.

The current plan is to revise the JLPT into 5 levels. Level 4 will become N5, level 3 becomes N4, while a new level – between the current levels 3 and 4 – is to be named N3. N2 will remain the essentially the same as the current level 2, while N1 will be a slightly more advanced version of the current level 1.

In addition, tests for levels 1 and 2 will be held biannually – in June and December – from 2009.

The revision, and especially the option of taking the exam twice a year, should come as a great relief to many students of Japanese. Many people come unstuck at level 2, and the fact that you can only take it once a year makes failure a very bitter pill to swallow.

I, for one, have been thinking about directing my attention away from the JLPT and towards the Business Japanese Proficiency Test (BJT) instead. My teacher thought it might be more useful for me seeing as everything that happens in my office, if not directly related to my area of expertise, requires me to use business Japanese. However, now that the JLPT is changing I may try both next year, just for the sheer hell of it.

By the way, if you’re interested in learning Japanese and don’t know where to start I’ve made a list of books to help you on your way. In fact, you can find it on the right-hand menu bar next to this article.

PS: The official website of the JLPT, where you can find out the latest news regarding the new levels, can be found here.

Moving On

Posted 26 Nov 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Japanese Language, Only in Japan, Video, Weather, Work

Yes indeed, after eighteen months of teaching at A Big university I will finally be moving on to pastures new come the end of December. Learning some Japanese seems to have paid off and I’ve managed to secure a job in central Tokyo doing interesting stuff (well, interesting for me, at least). My new company wants to employ me for at least the next five years, so it looks like I’ll be in Tokyo for quite a while yet. But… it’s very possible I’ll be making business trips between Japan and the UK (as well as Australia, South Africa and Singapore – cool!) over the next few years, so I’m sure I’ll get a chance to see at least some friends and family sooner rather than later!

In other news:

  • Bought a new sofa last week, which arrived this morning and is sweeeeeet. Lying on it feels like being back in the womb.
  • The weather has turned: It’s now most definitely cold. The upside is that almost every day is incredibly clear and bright; I can see Mt. Fuji from my office again!
  • Christmas has arrived. It’s impossible to go shopping without being bombarded by Xmas songs, tinsel, horrendous plastic reindeer and lights, so so many lights. But – what with Japan being not being a Christian country and all that – Xmas Day is in fact a normal working day. So what’s the effing point? Ey?
  • Have a Japanese exam next Sunday and have come to the conclusion that I haven’t studied anywhere near hard enough recently. Oh well…

Today we decided to have dinner at home for once (we usually eat out on Saturdays). This is what we bought:

Seafood Feast

Now that’s what I call fresh! Cooking them proved a bit of a heart-wrenching experience (word of advice: never grill shrimp unless you are 100% sure they are dead first), but as you can see, the end result looked pretty good, and the taste wasn’t bad either. Recently I’ve been trying to at least put some effort into cooking. I think everyone has the impression that everything in Tokyo is ridiculously expensive (melons more expensive than human kidneys and so on…), but to be honest I would say the UK is probably even more expensive these days, especially when it comes to restaurants… But anyway, it’s late and I’m in dire need of sleep. Ciao for now.

A Rude Awakening

Posted 11 Sep 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Events, Food, Japanese Language, Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo, Video, Weather

At around 3am this morning I witnessed the biggest thunderstorm I have ever seen in my life. Without any warning whatsoever the heavens opened, lightning struck surrounding buildings disturbingly frequently, and the thunder was loud enough to violently shake the windows.

And I didn’t get any of this on camera. Bugger.

Giving the god a good hard shake

Kichijoji Matsuri was held this weekend, meaning lots of people walking around in blue pyjamas getting drunk, carrying mikoshi around the local area (portable shrines used to carry gods. God taxis – cool!). Apparently the gods quite enjoy being shaken around a bit to wake them from their slumber, although I’m not sure if anyone has ever actually asked the gods for their opinion on this matter.

There were many different mikoshi, carried by different teams. Some of the more active (i.e. one sake too many) groups can get pretty vocal, like this set of individuals here:

Mmm... crabs

There’s also loads of food stalls to have a wander around (and yes, the ubiqitous kebab trucks are here as well. There’s just no escaping them). I’m especially fond of the fried baby crabs. They’re soft enough to be eaten whole, legs and all, and they’re fantastic. I’m quite aware they look like something out of The Thing, but really, they’re great!

In other news, we attended a residents group meeting for our apartment, which was about as interesting as it sounds. Most of the people living in our place are retired so we were the youngest people there by a good thirty years. Luckily they’re all really nice, and had some particulary amusing ideas on what should be done in case of The Big Earthquake (ten years overdue, apparently). Nakada-san – the group leader and ex-university professor – suggested climbing the stairs to the roof and waiting for a fire service helicopter to pick them up. His wife kindly pointed out that the fire service might have a few more important matters to attend to in a city of 30 million people.

Tokyo's suburban sprawl

One exeptionally good point to come out of the meeting was that we were given the key to the rooftop. Apparently we should have been given it when we moved in last year but Nakada-san forgot. The views from the rooftop are supoib, you can see Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, even Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Tower (yes, I know you can’t see very much in the photo, but trust me, you can see it). We’re also allowed to have parties and stuff up there any time we like which is great during summer. Apparently the old folks are having a full moon party next month, which I absolutely must attend at all costs.

Tokyo skyline (sort of)

I’ve foolisly decided to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in December, although recently I’ve put in absolutely no effort in when it comes to studying. Methinks I should stop writing this and get some revision done!