#translation

THIS is What it Takes to Master a Second Language – a Conversation With MIIS Alum Chelsea Inaba

Chelsea Inaba (MAT 2019)
  • You are a native speaker of English. When did you realize you wanted to further immerse yourself in the Japanese language and culture?

I grew up in a mostly monolingual English-speaking environment, but as a fourth generation Japanese American growing up in Hawai’i, I was surrounded by Japanese culture from a young age, despite having minimal exposure to the language. When I first visited Japan, I was 13 years old and met a lot of Japanese people who spoke English. I remember feeling both embarrassed and amazed, and decided to learn Japanese as soon as I got back from that trip. I wanted to enroll in Japanese classes, but this didn’t happen until I was 15 because we didn’t have many opportunities on my island for young people to learn a second language. My first two years of studying were mainly self-taught.

The next few years were interesting because I was simultaneously studying Japanese through beginner-level classes at my high school, Japanese classes at a local college, and an experimental Japanese conversation class at a local Buddhist temple. Thanks to these initial opportunities, I had a well-rounded fundamental knowledge of Japanese by the time I entered university, where I majored in Japanese language and literature.

  • How much time did you spend in Japan and what did you do there?

I studied abroad in Osaka for two semesters during university. After working as a bilingual tour briefer in the tourism industry in Hawaii for a year I worked in Tottori prefecture as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), teaching English to elementary and middle school children for about five and a half years.

What most people don’t know about me is that I actually wasn’t a part of the JET program — I was working for a small private company that provided English and French conversation lessons, and this company also worked directly with its local Board of Education to dispatch ALTs in the area.

Not being in the JET program meant I was given more freedom in teaching and with my vacation time. Thus, I made a habit of traveling all over Japan on my time off. I studied extensively in my free time, and used tests like the Kanji Proficiency exam and the National Tour Guide Interpreter Exam as a measure for keeping track of my progress and motiving myself to learn new things.

When I had free time at work, I would sit in on my students’ classes that weren’t the English classes, especially the History and Science classes, to learn about these concepts in Japanese. This turned out to be one of the best things I did that prepared me for MIIS, as I was essentially getting a second education in certain subjects in my B language. I also picked up Japanese calligraphy and boxing as hobbies.

  • How did you hear about MIIS and what did you study at MIIS?

My aunt used to tell me stories of my grandmother’s brother who went to Monterey (school unclear) to study language and ended up working for a government agency as a linguist. Thus, I was aware for a while that Monterey is a place you go “to study language.”

I visited Monterey to take a campus tour in my last year of university back in 2010 when I was considering job options, and it opened my eyes to the world of translation and interpretation. As I didn’t have much in-country experience at the time, I felt I wasn’t anywhere ready to apply, so I made working in Japan my biggest priority, and attending MIIS became a long-term goal. I took an intensive interpretation program at the University of Hawaii the summer I graduated to get a little bit of training in interpretation, but with only a year of study abroad, that was very challenging for me at the time, and I was scared off of interpreting until I tried again at MIIS.

In the years coming up to MIIS, there were a series of game translation contests hosted by LOCJAM in the years I was in Japan, and this introduced me to the fascinating world of localization. Because I was so fascinated by this new and upcoming industry, I entered MIIS as a TLM-Translation track student, and eventually made the switch to Translation (with a Localization Management specialization) so that I could take more T&I classes and build up my translation and interpretation skills.

At MIIS, I’ve taken classes in just about everything that the TILM programs at MIIS have to offer. (I even audited a class in NPTS about science and technology, which referenced Japan quite a bit!). After experiencing everything, and considering my skill set, working directly with language as a translator or interpreter won out as my ideal career path in the end.

  • Tell us about the key immersive learning opportunities (such as internship and practicum) and other key insights gained that have informed your future career direction.

I was given the opportunity to do two internships during my time as a student at MIIS, one during winter break in project management and the other in the summer, where I did interpretation with Honda R&D Americas. The combination of these two internships helped me realize that I was more interested in working directly with language than managing projects.

Although I ultimately decided project management is not for me, interning as a project manager was a good experience in that I was able to gain insights in the process that LSPs use when recruiting and working with translators and interpreters. I also learned how to take care of interpretation equipment and how events that need interpreters are planned.

  • You are about to graduate. What are you going to do after graduation?

I will be working as an in-house interpreter at Daikin, an HVAC manufacturing company that is expanding its language services department. They are located in Texas.

  • Any words of wisdom for language students who want to incorporate Japanese into their future careers?

If you are interested in translation and interpretation, expand your knowledge of everything, be curious and read extensively, learn to love kanji, and don’t forget to work on maintaining and elevating both your B and A languages. Don’t settle for your current language level, always aim higher. Live in Japan, and for as long as you can. Immerse yourself and absorb the language and culture.

If you have the means to study now, having a specialty in a field other than Japanese is a huge asset that will help set you apart from others in the field and open yourself up to opportunity.

Learning Japanese when you are a native English speaker takes many years of dedicated studying and can be a painful task at times, but it will pay off in the end if you persevere.

 

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS