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Working With A Translator

Lost in translation, I’ve learned a lot about how to communicate when we don’t speak the language.

Well I messed that up.

I’ve never been on a panel before, and I’ve never worked with a live translator before, except once and that was ASL which is different. This time, at WordCamp Tokyo, I was on a panel to talk about the Worldwide Community of WordPress, and other things, and we had a wonderful translator with us, Shinichi Nishikawa. But I’m afraid we made things very hard for him.

My father, who’s more experienced, gave me a critique later and I have some points to share with everyone.

  • Speak one sentence, wait for it to be translated, then move on.
  • Keep your English simple.
  • No cliches, idioms, or slang. Not even technical slang.
  • No jokes. They won’t translate. Don’t even try.
  • Don’t laugh at yourself either.

It’s remarkably hard to do this. I’m getting a little better at it, because my father’s wife is Japanese. While she understands some English, I would say her English is better than my French, and she’s mostly fluent in French. So we dance between three languages to try to communicate. With that in mind, I find myself trying for the smallest, easiest, most common words when I want to explain something.

For example, at dinner she was trying to say that my father has no sense of direction. This is true, but in Japanese there’s a word to mean ‘you lack this skill.’ You can apply it to anything, and as we were talking about it, she asked what the word was, in English, for someone who has no sense of music. We explained it was ‘unmusical’ or ‘no sense of music’, but I also mentioned ‘tone-deaf.’ This lead to us saying things like “You are tone-deaf in driving!” Where English will put a modifier on the word, the Japanese have a second word to add in front that puts the proper emphasis.

Understanding that one, small, thing changes what words I want to use when explaining WordPress (or anything) to someone who doesn’t speak my language natively. I’ve done this before, with normal conversations and travel, but doing it for WordPress was very hard because we’re used to things like ‘doing_it_wrong()’ and even ‘Howdy, Ipstenu.’ Those are small words we think of as normal and simple, but their concepts are so large they lose something in the translations.

Besides just words, I’ve learned we definitely need to translate our brochures into the language of the country we’re in. Not having the pamphlet be in Japanese was a killer. Also our little DreamHost Robots need names!

Our DreamHost Robots

Everyone thought our mascots were adorable, but they needed names. Since we have three stickers, one of them being tiny, I said we should call the little one “Yume-chan” because Yume (夢) means Dream in Japanese, and ‘chan’ is a diminutive. My father calls me ‘Mika-chan.’

Wapuu Just for an example, Wapuu is the mascot of WordPress in Japan. So really anything small and cute like this needs a name.

Knowing that, I feel more prepared next time not just should I come again to Japan, but also in general for how I present at a WordCamp. Every time I come to one, I learn a little more and a little more about myself, WordPress, and how we all communicate.

WordPress democratized publishing in more than just your website, after all.

2 replies on “Working With A Translator”

This is adorable, I love languages.

I have a very French relative and since adjectives & adverbs are in front, this led to being “pink-tickled” as part of our family lexicon.

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