Being bilingual is fun. Just saying you’re bilingual intrigues others because it is not something many see as accomplishable. Personally, I think anyone can be bilingual… it’s all about putting the time in and studying.
Anyhow, you made it to Japan (hypothetically)! You’ve locked down a cozy job programming or translating. Most of the time you will never have a “B2B” (business to business) interaction. Most of the time the Japanese people in your team, the designated “business men/women”, will do the heavy lifting. They will trudge under the scalding sun, sweat through the crowded trains, and perform the tedious business card exchange selling the product you are working on in a nice air-conditioned building. Most of the time.
There will be time when your skills will be needed. No, not your programming skills, nor your unique talent for licking your elbow. But the skills you learned in high school and college and thought that you would never need.
I despised English class. The world makes more sense in numbers and formulas, that’s why I became an engineer. Compared to programming languages, English has so many rules and irregularities that writing sometimes feels like a shootout in the American Wild West. But knowledge of all the rules and irregularities is needed, especially when it comes to proofreading translated materials.
Many Japanese businessmen and women I have met have the utmost confidence in their English. Unfortunately for them, when it comes to Powerpoint presentations partial sentences and fragmented sentences are key to getting a point across in minimal real-estate, and this is where a native English proofreader is needed.
I’ve had presentations come across my desk where I needed to ask for the original Japanese presentation; the translation was too incoherent. The person was shocked at first, taking it as an offense, but as I explained my thinking on how to “spin the sentences to target the best points of the product,” we worked together for an easily digestible presentation.
If you find yourself in this situation, I’d recommend taking a steady approach. Go steady and always ask questions about the background of the presentation. Ask for the original, not to tell the person translating they are wrong but to make sure that the nuance persists in the final product. All presentations, instruction guides, or flyers have a goal and it is your job as the proofreader to make sure, as the last in line, that the original idea persists.
Remember presenting in high school? I remember being told that it is an essential skill for someone entering the workforce. I remember laughing, saying, “I will be sitting behind a computer for work.” I remember being told the same thing in engineering school and laughing, saying the same thing. I was thinking that the only presenting I’ll ever do was in school.
I was wrong.
You know that same presentation I proofread; I presented it. After proofreading and rewriting the presentation, twice, the original presenter didn’t want to present something completely new to him. So my team asked me to stand in front of a group of sharply dressed Japanese and foreigners and present several products that all I knew about was what I translated. No pressure.
I don’t get nervous during presentations; I was more embarrassed with what I was wearing. Again, I sit in front of a computer all day, I dress comfortably. Either way, everything turned out fine and I got a compliment from my boss’s boss’s boss (yeah, no pressure).
Presenting is not really something you need to be proficient at, you just have to be comfortable presenting. For me personally, I always think of presentations as a one-way conversation; I can talk about one topic for as long as the other person will listen.
Learn the material, figure out what the goal of the presentation is about, and just have a conversation. It is your job as the presenter to fill in the blanks of the presentation slides, and throwing in a few rhetorical questions can keep even non-native English speakers engaged.
Now let’s get to the honest truth: do you read the “Terms and Conditions” when creating an online account? Well in Japan you might very well be reading and translating these types of documents. For that you need to be trilingual: English, Japanese, and English Legalese.
When two businesses agree to collaborate there are various secrets shared: intellectual properties, new ideas, corporate structure, etc. In order to keep these secrets the companies draft and sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements).
If you are working for a Japanese company that deals with overseas companies, the other company will most likely send an NDA containing the details about what information will be protected and what can be shared with the public. This NDA will most likely be in English and as the bilingual American I have had to, on occasions, explain “this is what you can do” and “this is what you can’t do” in layman’s Japanese. So not only being able to interpret Legalese, but also being able to explain it in simple Japanese should qualify anyone as trilingual.
If you work in a large company they will likely retain professional translators for these types of situations, but maybe not. Through proofreading, presenting, and translating legal documents I have learned to stay on my toes. I never know when I will walk into work and find a stack of papers on my desk or someone looking for my advice.
Finally, I would like to thank all those teachers who forced me to present, you saved my skin in Japan.
Software Engineer and Blogger at TalentHub
Usually coding, writing, or exploring Japan.
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