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Working as an Interpreter is Awesome (And Here's Why)


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I work as a professional translator/interpreter for a car company.

It's awesome.

Here is my list of reasons why this is the greatest job:

1. No take home stress. At my previous job I could never enjoy days off because I was always worrying about things that had to be done or projects I had to complete at work. As a translator/interpreter there is none of that. I could be in the most stressful meeting ever with people shouting back and forth and huge implications for the company but as soon as I walk out of that meeting it all slides off my back because it's not my problem. I'm just there to translate. I enjoy the hell out of my days off now.

2. You are the boss's best bud. Most companies in the US with a Japanese parent company (which are most of the companies that really need a translator badly) have mainly Japanese managing staff. All these Japanese managers can usually speak English just fine but they like to relax during meetings and use a translator instead. This means you're always there by the boss's side. From day one you're their personal buddy and you've got his ear. That's some job security.

3. Speaking of job security: everyone in the business knows that machine translation doesn't work. Plus they know that audio machine translation is a distant dream of the future. And it's not like every single Japanese worker is going to know how to speak Engineering-level English and it's certainly not like any of your American engineers are going to learn any Japanese. These companies will be needing translators 50 years in the future.

4. Tied with job security is the fact that you are worth your weight in gold. Getting a solid Japanese translator out to the American mid-west is like waiting for lightning to strike. We are a rarity and a hot commodity. Though it takes a little luck to get picked up when you have no experience in the field you want to interpret in, once you have 2 or so years under your belt suddenly you can go anywhere, do anything! Companies in the area will trip over themselves trying to outbid each other for an experienced engineering interpreter. The world is your oyster.

5. Studying kanji at work? Absolutely! It's training for the job isn't it? I use a site called WaniKani and everyone's totally cool with me using 30-40 minutes a day crunching my reviews on there. What they don't know is I'm mostly perfecting my kanji so I can finally sit down and read Dies Irae but hey it helps with the job too so who cares!

6. Probably best of all is no fanboys complaining about your translations. Most of the engineers will be happy just to have a general gist of what these papers say in English. It's not like manga/anime/game translation where every translation choice you make will be dissected and whined about. Since you are the only lifeline between the English and the Japanese both sides will treat you like a saint. Even the simplest translation I do never fails to gain me a heartfelt thanks, which is probably one of the best perks of the job. People really, truly appreciate what you do and are verbally grateful for it.

 

Now of course I realize that the company I work for might be an exception. The people here are really nice. But I think translators may find similar situations at other positions of this kind. I think a lot of anime/game/VN fans that learn Japanese get tunnel-vision thinking that game/anime/manga translation is where they want to end up, but I heartily recommend you look into automotive translation if you can. It's a great industry and I'm enjoying the heck out of it every day. I'll be happy to answer any questions about my job and how I got here in this thread.

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If at all possible while you're still in school I'd take some classes in Engineering or Medical as that will help give you an edge when applying for interpreting jobs. Medical and Automotive are the 2 biggest industries that hire Japanese interpreters and translators. The other is Patent Law but that seems to require the most study to get into.

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Wow this is such an encouraging read, you have no idea.

My parents aren't very keen on the idea of me majoring in translation and even I often doubt myself on whether or not being a translator/interpreter will help be with job stability, but it's what I have a passion for and knowing there are ways for it to work is most reassuring.

A question: did you always know this is where you wanted to be or you had a lot of doubts beforehand?

A bit of context: i'm in my 1st year of college (2nd semester) and next year i'll begin specifying my educational path. I want to go down the translation path and major in that field, but I still have lots of doubts on whether or not that's the right thing to do. I still don't know what kind of jobs/companies to look for and I don't know exactly what field would offer me the most security. I just know i really have a passion for it and that's the main driving force for me right now, but the unknown is pretty scary.

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1 hour ago, Nosebleed said:

Wow this is such an encouraging read, you have no idea.

My parents aren't very keen on the idea of me majoring in translation and even I often doubt myself on whether or not being a translator/interpreter will help be with job stability, but it's what I have a passion for and knowing there are ways for it to work is most reassuring.

A question: did you always know this is where you wanted to be or you had a lot of doubts beforehand?

A bit of context: i'm in my 1st year of college (2nd semester) and next year i'll begin specifying my educational path. I want to go down the translation path and major in that field, but I still have lots of doubts on whether or not that's the right thing to do. I still don't know what kind of jobs/companies to look for and I don't know exactly what field would offer me the most security. I just know i really have a passion for it and that's the main driving force for me right now, but the unknown is pretty scary.

I think you should go for it when you're still young, especially when your educational path is very important to your life and work affairs. For me, I started working on software development instead of business since that's way more exciting.

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3 hours ago, Getsuya said:

If at all possible while you're still in school I'd take some classes in Engineering or Medical as that will help give you an edge when applying for interpreting jobs. Medical and Automotive are the 2 biggest industries that hire Japanese interpreters and translators. The other is Patent Law but that seems to require the most study to get into.

So I guess that for one that was taking a telecomunications and electronics engineering bachelors it could help to some degree, I mean I did change bachelors to languages and I'm taking a double minor in asian studies and translation, but the fact that I did take engineering doesn't really go away I suppose.

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Interpreting seems extremely stressful.  I don't think I could translate speech in real time--especially when my bilingual boss is sitting there listening to me interpret his speech.  You're bound to end up with "But that's not what I said..." at some point.  Not to mention your workload could be potentially infinite if you have a queue of texts to translate.

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This is really encouraging Getsuya, thanks! Interpreting sound like a high reward low stress position (at least for you), which is great. 

Also for those interested, there are jobs outside of translating and interpreting that knowing Japanese would give you an advantage in. If you choose to go to graduate school, you have two good options. Going for a law degree, or an MBA. With high level proficiency in Japanese and with a law degree, you can do very well for yourself as an international lawyer. If you do an MBA, investment banks and hedgefunds will want you because you will be well qualified to trade Japanese stocks/debt/etc and broker investment deals that deal with Japan. So yeah, while interpreting sounds great, there are also other great options to choose from.   

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The Road to Interpreter

Since there seems to be a bit of interest in this, I will detail the exact steps I took to arrive where I am.

1. I began studying Japanese in high school through correspondence. During this time I really only learned hiragana, katakana and some very simple sentences but anyway I got started early.

2. I then studied it at my local community college. This was still pretty simple stuff and I was mostly just biding my time until I turned 19 when...

3. I went to Brazil and lived there for 2 years preaching the gospel for my church. During this time I learned Portuguese and also learned to break out of my loner shell and talk to people and open up. I also learned to love other cultures and accept cultural differences, which I think was very important.

4. I got back and went to a real college instead of a community college. I picked a college based on its strong study abroad program because I intended from the very start to study abroad in Japan.

5. After doing a little bit of study at that college I studied abroad. I cannot stress the importance of studying abroad in Japan for learning the language. It is such a nuanced language that is tied so deeply with Japanese culture that you really can't learn the one without the other. I realize not everyone has the finances for this, but there are tons of financing options for students, so you should take advantage of anything you can to make it over, even going in debt. I went pretty far in debt to do my study abroad, but it was worth it. If you don't take advantage of this while at college it could become very difficult for you to make it over to Japan later as you get caught up in working, then having a family etc.

6. While studying abroad I took the JLPT levels 3 and 2 and passed both. This is important. The JLPT unlocks many options later on, since it is the only real way to get certification of how good at Japanese you are. Many companies will want to know what level you are at, and being at at least level 2 is an important starting point for you in the Japanese industry.

6. After graduating (actually while graduating) I signed up for the JET Programme: http://jetprogramme.org/en/ Most people know this as an English teaching program, but there is also the option of being a 'CIR' or Coordinator of International Relations. This is a position for people who know Japanese already. You will be put to work in a community center (City Hall, international center etc) helping to run events and promote international friendships. The pay is good (especially for a person fresh out of college) and all they require is a degree in anything. If you have the JLPT and can interview well you have a good shot at becoming a CIR. This is invaluable. Being a CIR gives you 2-5 years of experience living and working in a Japanese office. Office Japanese is a lot different from what you'll learn in textbooks or what you'll see in books/manga/anime/VNS. And it's very important because:

7. The JLPT N1. It's entirely based around office and work words. It is meant to test whether a person would be capable of communicating in a work environment in Japan. Actually having worked in an office gave me a huge leg up in passing this.

8. After 2 years I decided to come back to America. I discovered that in Japan, with my lack of any other area of study, I would only be able to take minimum-wage jobs in big cities like Tokyo where I would barely be able to make ends meet. Unfortunately, minimum-wage translation jobs in Japan don't really care if the people they hire are native English speakers or not. They'll hire just about anyone with English experience, so you're competing with tons of people in Japan. Without a special skillset to offer beyond just English-Japanese it's very hard to find a good job in Japan without spending a lot of time making very little money and gaining experience or getting very, very lucky.

9. Before coming back I posted my resume up on Monster, a site for uploading resumes and searching for jobs. Very soon I received a contact from a headhunting company that specifically finds workers for automotive jobs. They told me that automotive companies based in Japan are in dire need of translators/interpreters in the US. If I was willing to move wherever they needed me, they could definitely get me a job even though I had no background or training in automotive terminology.

10. And so here I am.

Living and studying abroad, I feel, was the thing that really gave me a boost in finding this job. Living abroad by yourself shows independence and drive that companies really love. It gave me the confidence I needed to do well at interviews and adapt to crazy situations (like moving across the US with no car or house and getting all of that figured out in a week before immediately starting work).

I think the market is very solid for automotive translation, and it's a very good thing to aim for right now since they are always going to need translators and interpreters at these companies (and the turnover rate is a little high, just due to folks getting experience and moving on to higher-paying positions at other companies).

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12 hours ago, Getsuya said:

I work as a professional translator/interpreter for a car company.

Hello, fellow interpreter, I work at a car company too and I can relate to most of what you have said. 

It is absolutely true, that the main stress on the job is when people argue and try to force their opinion during meetings. The rest of the day is at most busy, but as I work on a project contract basis, I don't sit at the office, but rather support Japanese team on site (I work for press shop die maintenance mostly). And it is very interesting and there is a lot of spare time that you can use for Japanese studies or even book reading (mobile phones use is not allowed at genba, but nobody pays attention when and how I use it, since I am just an interpreter). 

I've been working like this for approx. 2 years, but it is not easy to find a job when you just graduated. It took me 5 months to get my first contract, and it was for a logistics company. 

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1 hour ago, Getsuya said:

Unfortunately, minimum-wage translation jobs in Japan don't really care if the people they hire are native English speakers or not. They'll hire just about anyone with English experience, so you're competing with tons of people in Japan.

Oh, so that's where Japanese VN companies like Debonosu get their translators.

I think you're lucky you found an industry that's well-funded and hasn't been affected overly much by globalization (yet).  Anything that doesn't require a physical presence can be easily outsourced, which is exactly what's happening to digital and non-specialist translation.

Overall, I'm pessimistic about the job prospects that learning a foreign language provide.  The skill is simply too generic.  Jobs are valuated based on the number of applicants that are capable or willing to perform them relative to the number of job openings, and language-learning is such a fundamental skill that anyone can do it with sufficient effort.  Compare that with the necessary skillset to go into science and engineering.

You managed to carve out a niche for yourself, but I think you managed to succeed despite your chosen field of training, not because of it.  Kudos to you for achieving your dream, but it's not something I'd broadly recommend to young adults facing the all-important decision of what to do with the rest of their lives.  There's nothing worse than training 4-6 years for a profession that could end up not even paying a livable wage.

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2 minutes ago, sanahtlig said:

Overall, I'm pessimistic about the job prospects that learning a foreign language provide.  The skill is simply too generic.  Jobs are valuated based on the number of applicants that are capable or willing to perform them relative to the number of job openings, and language-learning is such a fundamental skill that anyone can do it with sufficient effort.  Compare that with the necessary skillset to go into science and engineering.

Depends on the language, on the country you're searching for the job in, and on the industry you're looking for the job in. For Japanese there is always going to be an open market for translators and interpreters in America because people who can actually do native-level Japanese and English are not as common as you are implying. You also have to take into account things like region (coastal cities with large Asian populations will obviously have more competition than mid-west cities where not many Asians live but where car and industry companies are all set up). 

Honestly it's just like any other college skillset; you have to look and work at it to make sure you can get into a career, but there's definitely careers there if you put in the work to find them.

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Such a informative and entertaining read! Thank you for taking the time in sharing your experiences and insights regarding the great stuffs of your job Getsuya! :sachi:

It's often rare nowadays for anyone to be able to find a job or a occupation which they themselves are actually enjoying in what they do in a regular basis, feeling happy and somehow fulfilled through their work, rather than having a particular job or occupation out of necessity for paying the bills at home and daily life expenses in keeping us afloat...

Heed not to those who disagrees your viewpoint, since no matter how seemingly difficult a job/occupation appears to be as long as you're particularly passionate and happy with your occupation, that's all it matters in the end.  It's like a dream came true! Hang on to it while it last... 

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Interesting read of course. But I think you are looking down on ordinary work too. I am working as a system specialist in an office. Yes I could work overtime every day but that would mean that I am breaking the union law/Swedish law in a couple of months. But instead of doing that I work my 40 hours per week and don't give a rat's ass about everything else. Of course I am available whenever I am needed. I am not working one minute more than my work schedule because if I do that I hide the problems on my workplace and it is just a negative spiral until you burn yourself out.

I know it is not applicable everywhere but you have to have the courage to complain and have a constructive discussion with your manager or at least inform him of the situation. 

I don't have any problems switch on and off about work. I know some got that.

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