Choosing the Right Japanese Interpreter


Hiring an interpreter for an interview can involve countless challenges, especially when a language and cultural barrier are present. Thus, the selection process itself can be a road map hard to navigate. To help mitigate risk on the road to a good interview: Here are 5 things to be aware of when selecting an interpreter:

Bilinguals Just Wont’t Cut It

You see someone in the company use both the target language and the source language ever so smoothly between colleagues. You speak with them and it appears they grew up speaking both languages their whole life. It can be tempting to invite them into a business meeting to interpret the message of both you and your client. After all, they are bilingual and know everything about our company, right? 

However, there’s a reason why some people spend hours attached to their desks to earn a license or certification in their fields. There’s a reason why they are qualified and no one else is. They’ve spent countless hours at their desks hunting for a degree. So when looking for a translator or interpreter for your interview, your average man or woman fluent in both languages just might not be enough. 

Understand the relationship between your source and interpreter

Would you think gender is an issue? In some cases, this can be a non-negotiable requirement. For some foreign journalists who specialize in international gender issues, hiring a female interpreter is necessary. Because covering issues of sexual violence and oppressed women is a delicate topic for the woman being interviewed.  Using a female interpreter can be more comforting to the female interviewee.  Having a male translator might color the interview in a way that doesn’t represent the female interviewee. In these situations, a brief consultation with your interviewee can be valuable for choosing the right interpreter. Ask the interviewee their preference, they could provide a good personal reference to help translate their message. 

Furthermore, a thorough briefing for the interpreter to make sure they are aware of nature of the content is always established beforehand. 

Assess their Work Experience

Often times a potential candidate might appear credible during the first 30 seconds of a meeting or when you hear about them via a mutual connection. But make sure to double-check their work experience. Although a commonplace tactic, this extra preparation will help insure a smooth outcome for the interview. If you have no idea how to evaluate an interpreter, here are some questions a hiring manager may ask to evaluate a candidate’s foreign language skills. 

  • Do you have a certain area of specialization or do you work on generic translation projects of many types?

  • What have you translated or interpreted in the past?

  • Do you hold any translation certifications?

  • What kind of training do you do to improve your skills?

  • Have you trained in fields relevant to your own interpretation work (e.g., medical, legal, social work, education)?

  • What types of clients do you typically work with?

  • Would you ever want to work on your own and start your own freelance translation business or translation agency?

  • Why did you decide to become an interpreter/translator?

Access their Interpersonal Experience

Assume that skills in the target foreign language will not be enough. With any professional situation of dealing with people, complications arise. Does your interpreter currently show, or have previously demonstrated competent interpersonal abilities? The interpreter will suffice as a cultural and language-related bridge between you and the source. You may ask questions like these to understand your interpreter’s ability for dealing with people:

  • What kinds of people do you have the most difficulty working with?

  • What type of ethical dilemmas have you encountered as a translator/interpreter and how did you deal with those?

  • What would you do if you were interpreting and a person said something that you did not agree with or found upsetting?

  • When you are interpreting, do you attempt to establish a rapport with the person or do you prefer to keep the relationship formal and more detached?

  • What types of ethical dilemmas have you encountered and how did you resolve them?

  • How do you communicate to your source that they need to either slow down or re-explain what they said?

Hire readers

Translation and interpretation is a language game, like it or not. Interpreters are linguists, adept at language and the means to convey the subtlest messgages. To convey subtle nuances and terminology, sometimes only known within the culture itself, nuanced ways of expression is crucial. Interpreters need a nuanced vocabulary.  They need to be able to paint pictures of emotion with words as their toolbrush. The only way to perform this task smoothly, is for your interpreter to be an avid reader ― especially someone who is up-to-date with the content they are working with. 

If you’ve done some reserach into interview interpretations you probably heard of Marie Kondo, who tours the world helping people find joy in tidying up their homes. And to communicate her methodology across English-speaking cultures, she has been joined by the interpreting guru Iida Marie. Whether interpreting interivews with famous American talk show hosts, or interpreting live within people’s homes, Iida-san is on the forefront of onstage (interviews included) interpretation. When asked in a 2016 interview what helped her develop skills of a top interpreter she said, 

“I think in our daily conversations we generally use about 700 words, but in interpretation you encounter so many obscure or abstract language that you need a very extensive vocabulary…“Understanding not only specific words but context, both linguistic and cultural, is so crucial when interpreting and translating. There’s no better way to do that than reading.” 

Iida-san also practices by listening intently to the radio and TV programs while translating the words in her head. But the main tactic for finding a successful interpreter is making sure they read, and read often.  Further in the interview Iida-san goes onto talk about how she prepared for working with Marie Kondo. 

“I read all of her books. Cathy Hirano was the original translator of those books, which I loved. I also went back and read as many of her interviews. I also searched for any videos of her lectures so that I could get a sense of her diction and style.”

Find readers who read in both their target and source language and as a hiring manager you should feel more at ease. Make sure to question the material they read and how often they find themselves buried between the pages. The Japanese to English translator of Marie Kondo’s best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of tidying up” shares similar values towards reading. Her advice towards new translators. 

“Read, read, read good books, especially in your target language (English for me).

Always think long-term (hint: high-level interpreters are busy!)

Experienced interpreters are known for being booked at least a month in advanced. Especially the most qualified ones. Why? The necessary man/woman hours it requires to be prepared for a day of interpreting is substantial. To cover every word, phrase, or sentence expected to be uttered during the interpretation timeframe is no easy task. Sometimes, giving a month-long notification just barely qualifies as adequate notice. Language interpretation consultation company, interStar Translations gives insight into the amount of due dilligence interpreters put into each assignment and how demanding the preparation is. 

“Interpreters prepare diligently for your event. Sometimes, it takes 3 days of reading agendas, reports, glossaries, and online sources to prepare for a 1 hour event. Preparation time is required even for seemingly simple topics and is included into the interpreter’s daily rates. It would be highly unprofessional to come to a conference unprepared."

As the hiring manager, consider giving your potential interpretator notice of a major event sooner than considered necessary. Normally for major events, it is not umcommon to give interpreters a 6-month notice beforehand, and for major annual events a year’s early notice, according to interStar Translations.  If interpreters receive a cancellation notice the day of an event, they may receive a full reimbursement for the time spend preparing for the job. The amount payable can be different for each interpreter and the relationship between the client. 

How many should we hire?

Much of this question depends on the scale and length of the event. Some employers might prioritize sustaining their budget over all else. So much so that they are limited to hiring only one interpreter. Yet, using this preemptive strategy without properly considering the working conditions can be dangerous. For example, most experienced interpreters wouldn’t dare work a 1 hour-long simultaneous interpretation event without help. And depending on the topic, if a lot of technical jargon will be used for the event, it might be safer to hire two interpreters. Here is some detailed information given by interStar Translations on how to know the number of interpreters you need to hire. 

1) Simultaneous interpretation at a conference.

  • Under 30 minutes: 1 interpreter is acceptable because one standard shift is 30 minutes. Anything above: half day or full day require 2 interpreters.

2) Consecutive interpretation at a conference, seminar or training event

  • Under 2 hours: one interpreter can do it but again it depends on the topic.  If it is very tough technical stuff two interpreters are safer.  Anything above 2 hours requires 2 interpreters who alternate every hour or 30 minutes.

3) The so called “escort interpretation”

  • i.e. accompanying clients to factory tours, exhibitions etc. This is the most complicated scenario because the answer is: it depends. Is it just 2-3 one hour meetings per day? Or is it a full day of business talks?  

As someone hiring for an interpretation role, this responsibility can seem daunting. Especially if it is your first time hiring for your event or project. It may be advantageous to speak with a colleague on the hiring conditions for getting interpreters on board. If there is any other way our services can help you feel free to drop us a note.


Interpretation at Police Station

police interpretation in japan

Hopefully you would never need to hire an interpreter for visiting a police station in Japan. However, in case you get arrested you might need one.

For visiting a foreigner at a japanese police station you need an interpreter. Family members are allowed to visit for 15 mins. This is called 'Menkai' (面会) in Japanese. It is forbidden to talk about legal content at this meeting. Therefore, the police needs an interpreter to check the content. 

You can also send letters to the police station. The content of each letter will be checked, so an English written letter needs to be translated into Japanese. An airplane ticket to Japan can be very expensive, so sometimes it is better to write letters.

Further, you find English speaking lawyers in the Tokyo area. Usually, bilingual lawyers are more expensive. It can be difficult to find bilingual lawyers in the countryside. If your lawyer does not speak fluent English, you can always hire an interpreter to help you.

I realized that you can not find many Information on this topic. What kind of information would be useful to be available in English language?

What is the difference between Interpretation and Translation?

What is the difference between Interpretation and Translation?

I'm surprised to hear that many people don't know the difference between Translation and Interpretation. Most of the mails I get by clients ask me if I can translate for them. In most cases, they want me to work as Interpreter. Not many people know the difference between Interpretation and Translation.