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In order to become a Japanese interpreter, you must first be thoroughly fluent in the language, both in professional and casual language. If you are not yet at this level, you can develop your Japanese language skills by taking college-level courses, participating in a language exchange, and finding a way to immerse yourself in the language if possible. Taking a college-level course is a rather simple option, especially if you are already enrolled in college or if you live near a school that offers courses to non-matriculated students.
A language exchange is an informal arrangement with another person who is trying to become more proficient in your native language. The meetings can be quite casual. Some people involved in language exchange simply meet a few times a week for coffee. Half of the meeting is spent in one language and half in the other. During the course of the meeting, the people involved in the exchange help each other to correct and improve their foreign language skills.
One of the fastest ways to boost your language skills in order to become a Japanese interpreter is to immerse yourself in the language. This means living full-time in an area where Japanese is the primary language, namely Japan. This can be a pricey endeavor, but there are ways to offset the price. One of the best ways is to get a job in Japan. There are a number of programs that hire native English speakers to teach in Asia. Although the salary usually isn't handsome, it will offer the chance to immerse yourself in the language.
Once your language skills are very strong, you can begin applying for jobs as a Japanese interpreter. You may work for a company that offers translation services or work as a freelance translator. Governments are often the top employers of translators and interpreters. You may start out by looking for state or federal postings. If you become a Japanese interpreter for the government, you might be asked to interpret documents or audio recordings. You may also have the chance to travel to work as an on-site interpreter during meetings and events.
If you want to become a Japanese interpreter, you should also study Japanese customs. This will help to you better navigate social situations and will be especially important for on-site translation work. This will also help to you learn about Japanese culture, which will benefit you in your work.
Every time I see someone interpreting in Japanese, I think about the Bill Murray movie "Lost in Translation." A lot of the humor in that movie is based on how cultural norms in one place don't translate elsewhere, and how difficult it must be to be a good interpreter.
I've known people who became interpreters (not necessarily Japanese) and the best way to start is to take all the classes available at a nearby college, online, and anywhere else. If you're lucky enough to live in a city with a large Japanese population, you can usually hire a tutor to help with more fluency and also Japanese customs before trying to live there.
A high school friend has a job with the State Department as a Japanese interpreter. She said the most crucial part is becoming familiar with Japanese customs because in interpreting something that would be straightforward in another language, the literal Japanese might be something that doesn't make sense.
She said she was talking once where the English speaker said something "added life" to the experience. In Japanese, that would literally mean "raise from the dead," so she had to find a way around it to say "enriched life" or something similar.
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