“Leveling Up” Presentation PDF

Thank you to all the attendees who came to my “Leveling Up” presentation at IJET-27! You were a great audience, and I loved hearing your comments afterward. As promised, here is the PDF of my PowerPoint slides.

If you attended and you have suggestions for how I could improve the session, please feel free to comment or drop me a line.

If you weren’t able to make it to this weekend’s IJET in Sendai, you can catch the Level 2 version of this presentation at ATA57 in San Francisco. The specific examples will still be in Japanese, but I’ll be presenting in English, and about 80% of the content will apply to practitioners in all language pairs. The ATA version be 15 minutes shorter, but I promise I’ll try not to talk any faster. ^_~

“Pictures and Sound” Presentation Slides

As many of you know, last month, I gave a presentation at the 55th annual American Translators Association conference called “Pictures and Sound: Translating Television and Other Audiovisual Media.”

After the presentation, a few attendees asked me for copies of the slides. At the time I replied that I had no plans to release them, due to the fact that they contained video clips which I had copyright concerns about distributing.

However, I’ve now decided to release a PDF version of the slides, so that no video will be distributed but you can still see some of my notes, including parts of the presentation that I did not have time to get to. Just click here: ATA55prezi.

This is my work, so please do not distribute this PDF, but feel free to give anyone who might be interested the link to this blog post.

Thank you to all who attended the session, and especially to those who’ve reached out to me since then to share your thoughts about it! When I heard from two people that it was their favorite presentation of the conference, it made my year. :)

Word Usage Quiz for Writers #2

It’s baaaaack… Following up on my first quiz on commonly confused words, here is a second set of ten word-pair errors I see during proofreading. As always, the theory is that even if you already know the difference between the words in each pair, practice making deliberate choices may help prevent mistakes in the future.

New for this quiz: by reader request, you can now see the link to more information when you answer correctly too, instead of only seeing it if you answer incorrectly.

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  


Note: If you’re concerned that I’ll be able to see your answers, don’t be! I turned off that functionality. The only way your score will be published is if you choose to click one of the share buttons next to your score, and even then the info will not be stored on this site.

If you have any trouble with the quiz functionality, let me know!

What Good Is Literature? Side Notes

I’m slammed by so many work emergencies these days I haven’t had time to write too much for myself, but here a couple of quick little thoughts about the uses of literature in translation and in the world to follow up on What Good Is Literature?:

1. Literature: It’s What’s on TV

Every so often people ask me whether a liberal arts education really prepared me for my career. The short answer is, yes. The longer answer is, yes, and without a strong literary and liberal arts background, my translations of TV shows and films would be not only inferior to what I can do now, but just plain sub-standard. You can’t afford to miss the explicit literary references made in films, and those notes usually aren’t in the script–you just have to have to know them, or have enough ear for literature to recognize a quote even if you don’t know it. A random sampling of spontaneous quotes I’ve encountered in anime:

Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, and most of the rest of Shakespeare’s canon

-Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl


-“Alice in Wonderland”

-Science fiction works by Robert A. Heinlein & others

-Dante’s Divine Comedy

Yasunari Kawabata‘s Snow Country & other famous works by Japanese authors

-The Bible, the Koran, various sections of the Apocrypha, Kabbalistic writings, Buddhist sutras, etc.


2. Literature: It Moves Society Forward

I’m a devotee of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast, and in the various biographies of important historical figures, I’ve noticed a theme. For the women in the 1600s through the early 1900s, times when women of all classes were often barred from the same education men got, there was one sentence that popped up over and over in the biographies of women who revolutionized their fields of poetry, science, human rights, et cetera: “Her father gave her full access to his library.”

Sometimes, of course, it was the library of a brother, a family friend, or some other figure. And as often as not, these women’s fathers still didn’t allow them to pursue an “unwomanly” formal education–but they were allowed to read what they liked. And then they changed the world.

Something to think about!

Word Usage Quiz for Writers

It’s easy to read advice about commonly confused words, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get them right later. Yesterday I started wondering whether seeing the two next to each other and making an active, deliberate choice between them would help people store the information where it can be easily reached the next time the choice needs to be made.

So… I taught myself how to make quizzes embedded in my blog. Here, have a quiz!


Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  


Note: If you’re concerned that I’ll be able to see your answers, don’t be! I turned off that functionality. The only way your score will be published is if you choose to click one of the share buttons next to your score, and even then the info will not be stored on this site.

I’m planning to do a series of these with different word pairs, so if you have any trouble with the quiz functionality, let me know!

Demon Parades and Career Beginnings

© Yoshihiro Togashi 1990-1994 "Yu Yu Hakusho" / comics originally serialized in the WEEKLY SHONEN JUMP published by Shueisha Inc. TV animation series "Yu Yu Hakusho" is produced by © Pierrot/Shueisha.

The contemporary: Kurama, the fox spirit from Yu Yu Hakusho. (see alt text for copyright)

New Year's Eve Foxfires at the Changing Tree, Ōji by Hiroshige

The old: New Year’s Eve Foxfires at the Changing Tree, Ōji by Hiroshige

Though I didn’t manage to post about it before due to computer issues, I had two public speaking opportunities in January that were pretty fun.

First, I gave a workshop at Texas A&M University’s Stark Galleries. They’re hosting an ukiyo-e exhibit called “The Floating World” through next month, so part of their family-friendly event series is currently focused on Japanese arts and culture. The museum was kind enough to invite me down to TAMU to give a presentation on yokai–the legendary ghosts and goblins of Japan which played a big part in ukiyo-e traditions and still play a role in Japanese pop culture. (And, of course, to talk a little about anime.)

It’s a fun topic that I really like, though I worried about how it was going to go over–turns out it’s challenging to plan a family-friendly workshop about ghost stories when many of them are rated-R-worthy! Cue anxiety over how I could make it interesting enough for all ages at the same time.

But attendance was great: we had a full room, with an age distribution from about 10 to 75. We talked about how to survive an encounter with a kappa, how fox spirits possess humans, and who might show up in the deadly processional called the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons. The audience didn’t visibly react much during the lecture, which worried me, but it turns out they were just being quiet and polite. There were lots of thoughtful questions afterward, with people wanting to talk one-on-one and saying they really enjoyed learning about all the ghouls. Win!


Hyakki Yako (The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons), artist unknown

The other January “speaking engagement” was an informal video-chat interview with legal and academic translator Carolyn Yohn about how I got into my field. It went up on her blog this month (here’s the link) as her first video interview. Definitely not her first interview, though: Carolyn has an ongoing series of interviews on her blog with translators of all different fields about how they chose their specialties. Be sure to check it out!

I already knew that I far prefer delivering video/audio interviews to written ones, because written ones take more time as I get obsessive about getting just the right phrasing for everything. But I did learn something new doing this one through Google Hangout: good lighting for a girl in glasses is hard! Toward the end there are some truly epic shadows on my face. Next time, I’ll definitely ask the professionals for advice before I try to do my own lighting. ^_~ Lucky me that I work in an office with lighting professionals.

Talking to others about culture and translation inevitably means learning something new yourself, even after many years in the field. I highly recommend it, even if you don’t feel comfortable doing it on camera. Carolyn’s interview on camera was great for me: I may have a new fear of facial shadows, but I also met new people on Twitter who watched it and commented, and now I get to read cool new things they post.

The most fun thing, though, was probably finding this Night Parade a la Pokémon.

A night parade with a Pokémon spin.

A night parade with a Pokémon spin, by Pixiv artist “nojo.” (Artist page http://www.pixiv.com/users/548497 – some images contain adult content or are NSFW.)

2013 in Review, Part 1 – Filthy Lucre

Learning from the past is good for us! Which is surely part of why one of the popular topics each January is the “Year in Review” post, like those I recently read by fellow translators. Two favorites: Corinne McKay uses some questions to take stock—”what went right in 2013, what needs to go better in 2014, and where do you want to be a year from now?” and Carolyn Yohn looks back at the goals she set for 2013 and evaluates where she is now in relation to them.

These list-format posts are popular for some very good reasons, and it’s not just that we human beings love lists (though we do). It’s because:

  1. We humans love lists!
  2. Actively summarizing things helps us understand them. Just like a recap at the end of an essay helps the reader understand it, the very act of summarizing events in your own life helps you, the writer, to understand them better.
  3. Learning from our past = good. Hopefully we’ll do more of the things that had good results and remember not to do some of the things that had bad results. And we can tell ourselves it’s for the readers, too: maybe they can avoid some of our mistakes or repeat some of our successes!
  4. Knowing where we are in the present = crucial. It’s pretty hard to honestly confront where we are in life, which is why it can be painful to get on the scale at the doctor’s office or terrifying to see a financial planner. But if you don’t know where you are, you’re less likely to get where you want to go.

So, okay! I will follow my colleagues’ example and figure out where I am. What the heck did I do in 2013, anyway?!

Read on for Part 1, the money side of things, or stay tuned for Part 2, the professional development side. Continue Reading →

What Good Is Literature?

Today, one of my advanced and highly motivated students embarked with me on his first foray into Japanese literature: we started reading the short story 「神様」 (“Kamisama,” or “God”), by Hiromi Kawakami. It’s the second time I’ve taught this story, which features a walk to the river with a delightfully polite bear.

It was hard work for him, of course, and it introduced a lot of new grammar his formal textbooks hadn’t covered. This particular student prefers non-fiction to fiction in English, so I’d warned him ahead of time that he might find it frustrating, but over a three-week holiday break he got through the first page just fine. I thought things were going pretty well until he said, “I don’t see how this is helping me speak Japanese.”

I was flabbergasted for a moment. In my head I heard the question, What good is literature? But I’ve always been a voracious reader of fiction—it’s never occurred to me to question literature’s usefulness. For me, and for many of my friends, being able to read foreign literature is one of the goals of learning a language. But today, for the first time, I personally witnessed the proof of the theory that you don’t need to care about literature to be passionate about learning a language.

In which case, what good is literature, to the language learner whose interests lie elsewhere?

My answer to my student was that studying this story would help his listening comprehension by introducing him to speech that people use in conversation or on TV, and he’ll now notice them using it and know what it’s doing. And I 100% believe that’s true. I also believe that literature, along with comic books and television, tells you how people actually speak in a way that textbooks don’t. But now that I’m not on the spot anymore, I think there’s more to it than that.

Literature is also good for us so that we don’t fall into ruts. When you’re speaking a language you didn’t learn as a child, it’s dreadfully easy to find yourself recycling the same limited phrases or constructions over and over. Even I find myself sometimes latching on to phrases and developing speech tics I have to force myself to shake off. You see, it’s easy to only use a small portion of what you actually know. To become repetitive, because (1) learning takes repeated practice, and (2) traditional textbooks won’t expose you to anything outside the box.

Fiction is usually where we find the most creative use of language, where authors actively try to put words together in provocative ways. I submit that whatever your level of enjoyment, literature can’t help but expose you to new patterns and new expressions. And so I think that literature can help us go beyond functional into articulate.

What do you think? Have stories been useful to you?

**Yes, in addition to my full-time and freelance translating, I also tutor in the Japanese language. It’s pretty fun. Feel absolutely free to question my work/life balance skills, though.