(I Also Write Children's Books!)

Monday, February 24, 2014

My Job Translating English To English

I don't think I've told this story here, and it's a fun one - short, but fun.

I made the unfortunate mistake of quitting my (admittedly miserable) job in LA right at the start of the Great Recession.  This made finding new work a nightmare, and meant I took a few weird temporary jobs to help stretch out my finances.

The most fun of these temporary jobs was translating English to English for Japanese television.  A major Japanese television news station has a branch office in LA, you see.  They had an assistant out lengthily for medical reasons, and by one of those weird friend-of-a-friend situations I got the job to fill in.

The job itself... well, my main job really was to translate English into English.  The office was staffed by Japanese natives - a fact that unfortunately was the reason the office chief couldn't hire me permanently.  English was the second language of every single person in the office, and in most cases a second language they could barely speak at all.  In particular, the office chief was a highly intelligent woman, but her English was only okay.  Sorting through American news stories to see which ones were important enough to send to the office in Japan was hard for these folks.  The language is often either highly technical or filled with implications.  I, with my writing background, had the job of doing things like listening to CDC updates and explaining them to the office chief in very plain English.  I would also listen to or read general news stories, and explain not just what they said (which she usually understood already) but what they implied.  They also found it quite convenient to have a native English speaker to make investigative phone calls.  I even performed an interview once at E3 that supposedly made it on air in Japanese news.  The office chief was vocally pleased with my performance, and unhappy that she couldn't hire me permanently.  Hiring decisions were made at the home office.  I would have loved to have kept that job.  I remember it, and her, fondly.

(Her name and the network's name are withheld on the off chance they wouldn't like it.)

One interesting event in that job was the discussion of the word 'otaku'.  We were covering E3, you see - the major yearly computer gaming industry show.  Getting free press passes to that was pretty cool, by the way, although damn did we work rough hours during the convention.  While discussing the convention and how it was covered, my office chief asked me what the closest English translation to 'otaku' was.  The convention is, after all, of great interest to otaku.  I told her that the closest word in English is 'fanboy', but not to use it because it had strong negative connotations, and was generally considered an insult.  She and the other Japanese natives were baffled by why anyone would consider being otaku a bad thing.  The cameraman was otaku, she said.  She called out something to him in Japanese, and he answered similarly (he did not speak any English).  They apparently considered it a point of pride.  That has stuck with me as an interesting episode and cultural difference.

Also, in finding news stories for the Japanese audience, I was under strict instructions to pass along anything involving Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Apparently they love him in Japan.

Maybe that story wasn't as short as I thought it was.

1 comment:

  1. How very weird. Japanese usage of "otaku" must have radically changed in the last twenty-five years. When I was starting out, everyone was quite sure that "otaku" was a fairly insulting bit of slang, suggesting that the person so labeled was so utterly unsocialized he had nobody he could address any less formally than, literally, "thy house". That's what "otaku" was, originally, a second-person address of extreme high formality.

    About the time "otaku" as a description rather than the form of address had entered the pop lexicon, there was an infamous murder by an otaku-type creep named Miyazaki (no relation). That became the early-Nineties association - unsocialized, highly obsessive, maybe dangerous.

    I guess time and exposure has knocked the rough edges off the label, possibly replaced by NEET or hikikomori or something I haven't heard yet...

    BTW, loved the "Supervillain" book, looking forward to the sequel when you finish it.