(From the Summer 2005 “Interpretations” Issue)

It’s inevitable that a number of JET alums would work in interpretation and translation.  Here are some profiles of a few JET alums who have turned it into a living in a variety of ways.

Glen Anderson, New York (Miyazaki Prefecture 1992-1995)
Freelance Interpreter, Translator & Related Professional Services

What do I do?  For eight years, I have worked as an interpreter and translator in the automotive, litigation, finance and pharmaceutical fields. I specialize in interpreting at depositions, trials and investor meetings. In January 2005, I formed my own company and began offering addtional services such as helping investors develop relationships with Japanese companies, supporting securities brokers with their investor relations roadshows, helping Japanese companies put together presentations and managing large-scaletranslation projects for law firms.

How did I get into it?  I decided I wanted to be an interpreter once I began studying Japanese. I didn’t know any interpreters. But just as spontaneously as I had decided to start studying Japanese, I set my mind on eventually becoming an interpreter. Now that I have achieved that goal, I am looking forward to the next step, providing various consultation services to clients I have developed over theyears and eventually outsourcing the translation and interpretation work to trusted colleagues.

What’s my job like?  I never anticipated the immense pressure of interpretation.  Almost every day I walk into a new situation dealing with a new subject matter, and everyone in the room knows more about it than me. Last week was petrochemicals and hard disks; this week is data warehousing, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications.  Many meeting participants also speak both languages.  I am there for the few who do not. Mistakes rarely go unnoticed.  So I need to perform my best every day, and often, a lot is at stake.  If I were a job applicant, every day would be a job interview.  If I were a trial lawyer, every day would be a day in court.  It is emotionally and physically draining.  On days off, it takes a lot to muster up the energy to do other things.  What if someone says something I don’t understand? That one dreadful thought causes me to lose sleep and drives me to prepare hours for each assignment.  I try to stay positive by convincing myself that the subject matter is interesting and that learning it now will benefit me in the future beyondtomorrow’s assignment.

That said, the people I meet are tremendously talented and experts in their respective fields.  I learn lots of obscure but fascinating things.  Now, I often enjoy the adrenaline more than I dread the anxiety. Surprisingly, interpreting taps creative energies.  Sometimes I feel like I’m playing a game where you take a phrase and rearrange its letters to come up with a different word or phrase, only insteadof being bound by using the same letters, you’re bound by keeping the same meaning.

Any advice for other JET alums?  When someone tells me they’re interested in becoming a translator or an interpreter, I ask them why.  As a translator, you spend your entire day typing in front of a computer. As an interpreter, you spend your entire day wondering if it’s all right to take a rest room break.  Besides, you can always change careers to a translator or interpreter. There’s no barrier to entry. The reverse is not true, though. After working as an interpreter, it’s hard to find a company that will hire you to do something else.  So I think it’s safer to keep your regular job. Save the switch to translation for a time when you have no other choice.  By then, you will haveaccumulated years of experience that will make a strong resume as a translator or interpreter.


Cristy Burne, Perth, Australia
Biotechnology Patent Translating & Editing

What do I do?  Survive as a freelance writer thanks to regular income from patent translations and editing.  Translating is really mycash cow, not my passion. It funds my other writing projects (bless Japan) :-)

How did I get into it? A job with a Japanese biotechnology patent company was advertised through the JETAA network. They wanted someone from Singapore or Malaysia with a PhD in biotechnology and knowledge of American culture.  I was from Australia, had a BScand vague memories of Disneyland.  It was enough.  My Japanese began with ni-kyuu and no translating or patent experience.

The nitty gritty:  I now work 20 hours a week for the above Japanese company, working from home in Australia.  I edit bad Englishtranslations of Japanese patent applications, and translate shorter patent documents (up to 10 pages) in to English.

Why patents?  After a brief stint translating scientific papers I now prefer patent translations.  I know the science and the format, and can produce them more accurately and efficiently.  Thumbs up? This threatened to crush me as a full time endeavour, but as a parttime cash cow it not only pays my credit card but also helps to keep both sides of the brain in balance. Four stars ;-)

Stuart Albert (CIR, Ibaraki-ken, 1997-2000)
Software and Video Game Translation

What do I do?  Freelance Japanese to English translation.  I’m the head of my sole proprietorship, Akujunkan Creative Media.  I tend to focus in three areas of Japanese to English translation: computer software and hardware, video games, and medical and pharmaceutical documents. My recent work includes ongoing contracts with Nintendo of America, translation of several Playstation Portable titles,and a variety of medical and pharmaceutical clinical studies.

How do I like it?  This is my dream job, because I can set my own schedule and work from home–no commutes and no bosses, because I get to play lots of games, and because I’m using exactly what I studied (Japanese and English Lit). However, that freedom is counterbalanced with long hours (even weekends) and deadlines, not to mention the constant need to make new clients. This job affords me the opportunity to travel frequently without worrying about missing work–wherever I have a laptop and an Internetconnection, I’m in business.

How did I get into it?  I was given a large amount of translation work on a wide variety of subjects as a CIR in Ibaraki, and it turned out that I was actually good at it.  I returned to the USA after JET and worked briefly as Senior Bilingual Technical Writer at Nintendo of America, then left to form my own freelance business. Though I made efforts to become a translator, a lot of this just seemed to coalesce around me–I got lucky by getting to know a few key people who introduced me to other people, and then the work started coming in. I’m happy with the work I’m doing now, but it’s taken 13 years of studying Japanese and 5 of living in Japan to get me here. But that’s not to say I’m completely satisfied–I am working to expand in more creative directions, such as novels, films, and more game translations. Who knows? Thatmay take another 13 years–but it will happen one kanji at a time.

Stuart Albert
CIR, Ibaraki 1997-2000

Stacy Smith, New York (Kumamoto-ken, 2000-03)
Staff Writer for Nikkei Business Publications

What do I do?  Write articles about American business in English and then translate my writing into Japanese for a Japanese audience.

How do I feel about it?  I just started 3 months ago but I am really enjoying it so far.  It’s excellent practice for my Japanese writing skills!  Besides the journalism aspect of my job, I am often asked to translate documents for our head office in Tokyo.  I am also going to an automotive conference sponsored by my company in Octoberas an interpreter, so I’m really looking forward to that!

How did I get into it?  I applied through the employment agency Bremar.  (They seemed to have quite a few media jobs available forpeople looking for jobs in this field).

Any advice for other JET alums?  Be persistent and don’t give up when it comes to job searching!  I was looking for a year and a half after I came home from Japan before I stumbled upon my current position.  Also, don’t be willing to compromise too much (if you have the luxury to do this).  I wanted a job where I could use Japanese and work in media, but many of the positions I interviewed for were largely secretarial or had some other huge flaw.  The journey was long and frustrating at times, but in retrospect I’m glad I waited for something that fit what I was looking for!

Josh Borden, New York (Ibaraki-ken, 1995-97)
Owner of Import/Export Company

What do I do?  Once a JET, I now have a medium sized import/export company in the metals industry, dealing mostly with US and Chinese companies.

The work of my company is roughly split into two functions– first, the nitty gritty of importing and exporting, such as contacting customs brokers, taking orders, arranging deliveries, etc.  The second aspect of our business is helping bridge the communication gap.  My Chinese is passable on good days, but I also have four native Chinese speaking staff in our New York office, who translate and interpret back and forth all day long, some of which are quite complex questions or difficult answers to interpret into the otherlangauge due to cultural differences.

For example (using Japanese), if a American client asks a Japanese supplier, “will your company have difficulty producing this product on time and according to our complete specifications” and a Japanese guy responds, “daijoubu da to omoimasu ga… chotto…” what is the best way to translate?  This type of answer is not acceptable to most American companies, but it’s hard to dig for a specific answer which would satisfy the American customer without offending the Japanese company by probing too deeply and coming off rude, and damaging your relationship with the Japanese supplier.  We encounter these kinds of cross cultural communication problems daily.

Personally, I often travel, and accompany Chinese people on US trips, and take US business execs to visit plants in China.  I often interpret for both parties during such trips.  In addition to the language barriers,  cultural differences can also throw a wrench in a budding business relationship, so I have to quickly explain the other’sbehavior lightly, and provide cultural context to keep the trip from souring.

Josh Borden
Ibaraki, ’95-’97

Dina Paglia (CIR & ALT, Saga-ken)
Multicultural Market Research

What do I do?  I work for a multicultural market research firm.  I am responsible for new business development for the multicultural division of a market research firm.  My responsibilities include prospecting, educating colleagues on foreign language and culture,client relationship management, developing multicultural research business, and providing input on multicultural projects.

How did I get into this?  Networking.  I previously spent 8 years working for a translation agency as project manager, director, and finally VP of business development.  My job involved recruiting, coordinating and managing teams of linguists, Japanese/Spanishediting and proofreading.  I found that job through an ad in the paper.

How do you feel about your current and previous job? Current job – industry is fun, interesting, lots of career advancement opportunities; work is interesting.  Previous job – working with diverse projects, colleagues, vendors; disliked the lack of career advancement opportunities and that the industry is completelyunregulated.

Any advice for other JET alums?  The translation industry is a great place for returning JETS to start out if you have foreign language skills. You will be exposed to a variety of languages, cultures and diverse people. Excellent time management, multitasking,communications and organizational skills are key.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this article!  If you have questions, you can contact the JET alums profiled either via: newsletter at jetaany dot org or directly where contact information is provided.

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