Interpreting into English or Japanese?

Interpreters are like jugglers. We can juggle two balls, we can juggle three balls. We can juggle the balls clockwise and then switch to anti-clockwise moments later. There are so many modes of interpreting – consecutive, simultaneous, chuchotage (whispered simultaneous) – and then there are two different languages to interpret into. In my case, I work from English into Japanese and Japanese into English. In a general dialogue between two or more people, I switch between languages every 10-30 seconds, and then switch from consecutive to simultaneous if perceived necessary for that situation.

So, juggling interpreters. But instead of balls, we’re juggling languages and those languages really do change direction quickly (just an aside, I’m terrible at juggling). Japanese into English, then English into Japanese.

An interesting topic that comes up often is which language is easier to interpret into.

For me, personally, it depends on the mode of interpreting.

If I’m interpreting consecutively, it’s generally easier for me to interpret the Japanese into English. This is because it’s easier for me to summarise my ideas and express myself more clearly in my native language. However, on the other hand, the Japanese language tends to omit subjects and rely heavily on context, so it can be extremely difficult to pick up the topic of conversation occasionally.

In terms of simultaneous, I prefer English into Japanese. This isn’t to say that my Japanese skills are perfect – actually, my Japanese is far from that! It’s because simultaneous interpreting requires high concentration and a lot of multitasking. You’re speaking in one language while listening in another language! That’s insane.

Anyway, as an English native speaker, it’s easier for me to process large amounts of English speech in my head. I can listen and understand English without fully concentrating, so I’m able to effectively process the English speech in my head while thinking about how to express this in Japanese, and then actually convey in Japanese.

It’s harder when the base language is in Japanese because I have to concentrate more on listening than speaking, so my output (English interpretation) tends to suffer as a result.


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