Senior Translators (STs) play an important role in Gengo’s community: they write and correct translator exams, give translators feedback and help keep quality on track. This week we’d like to feature one of our STs, Masami, who is also a long-time Gengo translator. From her home in the UK, she helps manage our Japanese to English language pair.
What languages do you speak? How did you learn them?
I speak Latin American Spanish, Japanese and English. I was born in Japan to Japanese parents but then moved to Ecuador when I was two years old. I lived there for 18 years before coming to the UK to do a university degree and have remained here ever since. I learned Japanese at home, Spanish at school and English at an American secondary school.
Do you have any interesting anecdotes from where work has taken you?
I haven’t had to do any traveling for translation work, but in my previous career in software development, my language skills gave me the opportunity to work with many different clients. I once had to leave the UK to go to Spain to help develop a customer’s solution for three days, then straight on a plane from Spain to Japan to help a partner who was reselling our software.
Towards the end of that week I was working with our Japanese client, while talking on the phone to our Spanish client to answer quick questions and liaising with our team back in the UK. The jet lag and the really heavy cold I had at the time made constantly switching my brain between all those countries (both in terms of language and cultural behavior) quite challenging. Suddenly turning round and speaking in Spanish to my Japanese customers after coming off the phone to Spain definitely caused a few giggles!
How did you get into translation? Do you translate full-time?
When I decided to start a family I made the conscious decision not to be a parent who had to be in an office all day, leaving my child in childcare—I wanted to be fully involved in their upbringing.
IT and software development is not a job that can be done part-time, and I quite fancied being my own boss so I decided to explore new areas. I have always loved languages so I decided to give translation a go. I did a distance learning course in translation as soon as my daughter was born, planning to specialize in translation across Spanish and English. I ended up choosing Japanese to English because it has a much smaller translator pool. I also personally found it more interesting and challenging, as the structure of those two languages are completely different. From then on I decided to concentrate on working in the Japanese to English language pair.
Currently my work is primarily in translation, with the odd software consultancy here and there. I work part time to make sure I have time to spend with my daughter and also indulge in a few hobbies. Since she started going to school last year, I definitely have more time to work.
What was your most enjoyable translation experience? Your most challenging?
My most enjoyable translation experience so far has been translating Japanese children’s books for a customer. Since my daughter loves books, we read a lot and translating them is pure joy. Many people think that translating children’s books is easy, but it is actually quite tricky to ensure that you use the right words for the target age range and that the subtle nuances translate accurately.
I often test my translations on my daughter, who gets very excited when she sees that I’m translating a picture book. I also find it personally rewarding that I have a great relationship with this customer—they once sent me a copy of a book that I enjoyed translating as a thank you gift.
The most challenging experience? In the past I have had to translate personal accounts of people who have gone through great emotional trauma, such as losing close friends or relatives. This is challenging not because of the language used but because of the emotions behind those words. I once even had to try and type into my laptop with slightly tearful eyes, which made it fairly difficult to see the screen!
When you are translating something so personal to the client, you are even more motivated to do your best to ensure that the right meaning and sentiment is conveyed in your translation and you always end up worrying slightly whether you have managed to do a good job or not.
Describe your office setup or workspace. What is the view like? What kind of scenery do you look at every day?
I work in my home in the UK. I do have an office in a spare room upstairs but being up there on my own can make me feel a bit isolated. My husband works from home too; his office is downstairs next to the kitchen (with easy access to coffee!). Nowadays I work in the dining room downstairs, which is much more sociable while still being quiet. To the left I just have my sitting room, but on the right I can see the conservatory leading out onto the garden. I look at the flowers and birds when I need to move my eyes away from the screen.
Based on your specific cultural expertise, what are the best books or movies you would recommend to others?
I personally love reading Natsume Soseki, and I have pretty much read all of Haruki Murakami’s books—these are great reads even in the translated versions. In terms of movies, my absolute favorites are Nankyoku Monogatari (Antarctica) and Hachiko Monogatari.
What is your favorite “translator’s snack” for while you work?
I am not in the habit of snacking at all. I generally just tend to keep going until I realize it’s lunch or dinnertime and I’m starving!
What online productivity tool saves you the most time?
I don’t actually use any productivity or translation tools, but I have to say that translating without Google would almost seem like an impossible task nowadays.
Finally, if you had to give advice to your fellow Gengo translators, what are the best ways to relax and stay sane as a translator? What is your top tip for those who are just starting out?
I’ve always been an advocate for physical exercise. Years ago I dedicated myself to kickboxing, then long-distance running and now it’s playing taiko and swimming. I think it’s the best way to relieve tension and keep perspective.
My top tip for new translators is to build your confidence slowly and pick up jobs that you find really interesting. This goes a long way to keep you motivated, and you’re also less likely to burn out.
When I was just starting out, I decided to translate a company’s long and very unexciting financial report. Although I could do it, it was overall a very painful experience. This knocked my confidence back, which wasn’t great when I was just trying to get started. Taking well-compensated jobs is important, but at first I think it’s better to build confidence slowly by choosing subjects that you enjoy.
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