In this month's profile, Izumi Suzuki describes the life choices that have made her a translator and interpreter. Readers of Translation Journal will likely find that the themes of Izumi's career resonate with their own experience, though her particular story is, of course, unique. I was struck by the way in which study and diligence, fine old-fashioned virtues that still ring true for us today, intertwine with flexibility, networking, and mentoring, terms that have a very contemporary sound to them. I have long admired Izumi for her dedication both to our profession, and to the professional associations that bring us together and enable us to advance our own knowledge, as well as assist our colleagues. In the American Translators Association Izumi has served on the Board of Directors and is now the Administrator of the Japanese Language Division, as well as the English/Japanese language chair for the accreditation program. In her region Izumi has been a guiding force in the Michigan Translators/Interpreters Network, which is now developing a new division, the Certified Court Interpreters of Michigan. She continues to maintain a staggering schedule of professional assignments in addition to her volunteer work (staggering at least to those of us who know the pressure of "the booth" only by description, not personal acquaintance!). Not least, she is a close and good friend to those colleagues who are fortunate enough to get to know her personally. It is an honor to introduce this profile and one of our most distinguished Japanese/English translators and interpreters, Izumi Suzuki.
Ann G. Macfarlane,
National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators and
Immediate Past President, ATA
ince I was a young child, my dream was to become a classic ballet dancer. I started ballet at six, and entered the Tchaikovsky-Memorial Tokyo Ballet Company when I was 17. I danced every day from morning till night 6 days a week. I was in the corps-de-ballet. One summer I had an opportunity to study under a Royal Ballet Academy teacher in England. She made me see reality: I would never make a soloist, because I was too tall even by English standards. But I would make a good teacher. She could write a recommendation letter for me to take a teacher's course at the Royal Ballet Academy.
This made me think seriously about my future. Can I be financially independent as a corps-de-ballet dancer? If not, do I want to be a ballet teacher? If so, should I go to the Royal Ballet Academy? I realized that, however much I loved ballet, I could never be a soloist, (let alone a prima ballerina) and make enough money to be independent. Besides, a dancer's life on the stage was very shortmaybe up to 30 or so. But then, what? The only way to make enough money to support myself would be to become a ballet teacher, but that was not what I wanted. Does this mean I should quit ballet? I was good enough to be in the Company, because I worked very hard, but I was not talented enough to be a soloist (overcoming the problem of my height).
Both the defendant and the victim were interpreted wrongly...; the defendant was charged with a much more serious crime and was convicted.
What troubled me most was the question whether quitting ballet would mean that what I had done all my life (until) then would become meaningless and a waste. If I gave up the "Tao" (Way of life) that I had built so far, would I be a failure? I agonized over this question for a month. I cried every night.
While I was with the Tokyo Ballet, I started to go to the Japan Interpreters Training School (JITS). The original purpose was not to be an interpreter, but to energize my brain. As I was dancing every day all day, I felt my brain cells dying by the thousands: I was always too tired to read, and I did not know what was happening in the world, and I didn't share any intellectual conversation with anyone. Since my mother went to JITS to brush up her English when she was young, she recommended that I do the same, and I did. I was not particularly interested in English, but that was one subject that I always had high marks in at school. It was at JITS that I met Mr. Michihiro Matsumoto. He was one of the two simultaneous interpreting teachers that I learned from there. He talked a lot about his "Way of Life" regarding English. I was very moved by his enthusiasm for English and interpreting.
Mr. Matsumoto taught me that the "Way of Life" could continue even if I quit ballet and start something else. What I had built through ballet wouldn't be wasted. I could continue to build my "Way of Life" through whatever I would do. This helped me make the biggest decision in my life thus far: I quit the Company, and I quit ballet to cut myself totally from my previous life. I decided to be a simultaneous interpreter. Mr. Matsumoto introduced me to ISS, which offered a simultaneous interpreting training course. I took an entrance exam in English and in Japanese. I was fortunate enough to pass the exam and to be included in a class of 20 people.
I continued to go to JITS at night, since the ISS course was during the day. After a while I felt I needed to have more basic knowledge in various areas, and started a study group with my classmates at ISS. We studied Samuelson's Economics, World History and Japanese History (in that order). I was blessed with excellent teachers at ISS, too. Mrs. Yukika Sohma, who was a pioneer in simultaneous interpreting between Japanese and English, together with Mr. Sen Nishiyama, and she taught us that interpreting is not replacing words and sentences into the other language: it is to communicate feelings expressed and implied in words. If you can't convey the speaker's heart, better not even try, because you will just create misunderstanding. Mrs. Sohma is a daughter of a famous statesman, Yukio Ozaki, who gave the cherry trees to Washington DC. She is 91, and the current chairperson of the JIRAI O NAKUSU KAI (Organization to Eliminate Land Mines). I saw her last year for the first time in 25 years or so. She hasn't changed, and is as energetic as ever.
Mrs. Sohma's daughter, Mrs. Hara, was also my teacher. She is the best simultaneous interpreter of Japanese and English I've ever known. Her interpreting doesn't have any waste. She catches all the points and communicates them precisely in a manner that the audience understands easily. She speaks slowly and clearly in a low voice. I also learned from her voice control technique. The female high voice is very tiring to hear, and the interpreter should know the quality of her own voice over the microphone and control it so that it is pleasant to the audience. I also saw her with Mrs. Sohma last year, and she hasn't changed either. I felt like time only passed through meI certainly got much older than when I was in my twenties while learning under them.
The ISS course was for three years, and only two people graduated from the course. The other student, I heard, later became a simultaneous interpreter at the UN. While I was taking the course, ISS gave me various jobs. They were very considerate in choosing jobs for me, and they gave me easy jobs in the beginning and harder and harder jobs later. We were also given opportunities to do conference-interpreting jobs: ISS sometimes rented their conference room to groups, and we students got in the booths there and interpreted for such groups. ISS didn't charge them for simultaneous interpreting, and we 'tried' to interpret as much as we could. Since it was free service, clients didn't complain, and we could experience the real atmosphere of simultaneous interpreting.
I studied very hard, and the effort I made all bore fruit for me. When I was dancing, I didn't feel that way. I felt I worked harder than anybody else, but my effort was not proportionate to my achievement. It seemed that the harder I worked, the less I achieved. I felt like I was putting water in sand. I kept asking myself, "Why don't I get better when I am working so hard?" And I saw younger dancers who didn't seem to be trying so hard turn pirouettes effortlessly, raise their legs high in arabesque, and jump high in difficult combinations. I was jealous, and I was mentally and physically tired. Studying for interpreting was a completely different matter. Of course in the beginning, I didn't do well at all. We were to tape all our interpreting while listening to practice tapes. In the beginning, I only heard myself utter "Uuh, aah, well, and this, uh, you know, (cough)." It was disgusting. I sounded like a complete fool. But as I studied over and over, I got better. I could acquire what I studied, and it was reflected in interpreting. Compared with ballet, everything was easier. To this day, nothing is too hard for me (such that I have to give up). I could say this because I know I once dedicated every bit of myself to ballet.
Through jobs I received during the course, there were a couple of occasions that I felt enlightened. One occasion was when I was interpreting for a trainer hired by Sony for an athletic tape. It was the first time for me to be in front of a big audience (about 50, which I REALLY felt as a BIG audience), and I had a butterfly flipping all over in my stomach. When I uttered my first words, my voice came out of the top of my head. It probably went on for a few minutes, but it felt like eternity. Then I told myself, "They are not people. They are potatoes." And suddenly with 50 potatoes in front of me, my voice came back to myself, and I calmed down. I smiled, and after that, I was fine. The other occasion was when I interpreted for a press interview for the first time. I was very nervous and told my client, Mr. O'Callahan, so. The older gentleman from the Canadian Government told me how good my English was, and assured me there was nothing to worry about. His encouragement helped me tremendously, and when a reporter started to ask questions to the Canadian, I could put myself in the reporter's perspective: I got what he wanted to hear, and I could arrange the Canadian's answers in the most understandable way for the reporter. This does not mean the interpreter changes the meaning of what the speaker says, but it is the interpreter's job to make sure that the listener understands. Mr. O'Callahan died of an acute leukemia in Japan soon after he made another trip to Japan, so I never saw him again, but his kind words still linger in my heart.
While I was a student at ISS, I took an interpreter certification test by the Interpreting Certification Association. After I got a notice that I passed the test, I received a phone call from the organization. They said I was No. 1, and would I make a practice tape with Mr. Sen Nishiyama as a teacher and me as a student of simultaneous interpreting? I accepted the offer. I was put in a booth and interpreted as I heard a tape. Mr. Nishiyama corrected my interpretation, and then I did it again. I interpreted the same tape three times with Mr. Nishiyama correcting me each time, and that was it. I don't even remember what I interpreted. I had never been that nervous in my life. Mr. Nishiyama, at that time, was the best-known simultaneous interpreter in Japan. He interpreted the first voice from the moon: he was the head of interpreters at the American Embassy, and was Mr. Matsumoto's boss there. Mr. Matsumoto, whom I respected tremendously, always talked me about Mr. Nishiyama with a sense of awe. Just being in front of him made me nervous enough, and I had to interpret simultaneously (with him correcting me) to make a tape to be sold to the public. I never wanted to listen to that tape, and I never did.
Mr. Nishiyama was very kind and patient. He smiled at me so that I could relax (well, I couldn't). I thought he was flabbergasted with my interpreting and left feeling discouraged. However, soon after this taping, he called me and asked me very politely: "I have this client of mine that I can't take care of any longer, since I am so busy. Could you take this over?" I was stunned and delighted, and said "yes" right away. It was for an automotive parts company. I worked with this company for a number of years, until I left Japan upon my marriage to my American husband.
I came to Michigan in 1978. My son Ken was born next year in Grand Rapids, and then we moved back to Japan in 1980 due to my husband's assignment to be the CEO of a company in Japan. My daughter Jun was born in 1982, and we came back to Michigan in the same year. My husband and I decided that I should not have full-time work until our younger child became two, so I did a little bit of teaching ballet (I restarted ballet 2 years after I left the Tokyo Ballet Company, when I felt that I was well under way towards becoming an interpreter.) and Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement in which I became the third-degree master) besides doing translation and interpreting.
When my husband left his company, we decided to establish our own company: Suzuki, Myers & Associates, Ltd. in Grand Rapids in 1984. Our company offers US/Japan interface consulting and language services. Grand Rapids, then, was a conservative, sleepy city, and we found ourselves commuting to the Detroit area quite often. In the end of 1985 we moved to the suburbs of Detroit. We couldn't have asked for the better timing. It was right about then that Japanese automotive companies were coming to the area. Mazda built an assembly plant, and encouraged their suppliers to follow them. All the major Japanese vehicle manufacturers established R&D centers in and around Ann Arbor. Ford and Mazda started to talk, GM and Toyota started to negotiate on the NUMMI joint venture, and Chrysler and Mitsubishi were discussing Diamond Star Motors, their joint venture. In a matter of ten years, the number of Japanese companies in the area exploded from less than 30 to nearly 300.
My familiarity with automotive engineering and business helped me establish clients. Every job was an opportunity to learn more about the automotive industry. One day I got a call from a company called ASI (American Supplier Institute). They train companies in the Quality Control area, and they needed an interpreter for QC instructors from the Central Japan Quality Control Association. I went to have an interview with them, and they hired me. They offered me their QC courses and seminars free of charge to prepare myself for the job, and I jumped at the offer. My business sense told me that this would be the hot area for many years to come, and that learning QC and related areas would place me ahead of competitors. I learned Policy Management, Statistical Quality Control, Total Quality Management, Quality Function Deployment, Quality Assurance System, Toyota Production System and the Taguchi Method (Quality Engineering). The knowledge I gained has been useful in my interpreting to this day.
My experience in the QC area also helped me get a job from the Japan Institute of Plant Maintenance later in 1989, when they first came to Ford to give an executive seminar on TPM (Total Productive Maintenance). TPM focuses on equipment maintenance to eliminate defects and eventually change people's attitude towards work on the production floor. It complements TQM, and supports TPS. It is not just an improvement tool but also a total system to improve an entire company. The concept of TPM was so interesting to me that I read many, many books (both in English and Japanese). I went to the production floor of various manufacturers with instructors, and they taught me how one should look at machines and processes. I even worked with other trainees cleaning machines to learn about equipment mechanisms and functions. I still love to work in this area.
It was also in 1989 when I joined the American Translators Association. I heard about ATA through a friend of mine. She told me that ATA offered an accreditation exam in translation. From my school days, I was good at tests. I got a knack of studying for a test, and usually got higher marks than my real ability. When I was in high school, classes were divided by grades, and I was in the best class. We used to make our own tests to give one another during a break to cover areas that we thought teachers didn't cover well. (Yes, we were hated by the students in other classes, and we knew we were 'weird.') So when I heard about this translation test, my old love for tests came back and decided to try it out. So I went to the Annual Conference in Arlington Heights, VA, and joined the Japanese Language Division. It is hard to express my surprise fully: I had never seen so many Americans speaking and writing and reading Japanese so easily and so fluently. I was not just impressed, I was moved. I felt how small my world had been. I felt like a little chicken surrounded by eagles. One person that so impressed me was Mr. Don Gorham. He gave a lecture on court interpreting in his session. That was the area that I did not know at all, and his fluency in Japanese was just unbelievable. I was also impressed with John Bukacek's leadership as the JLD Administrator. Later I received a notice that I had passed the test. At that time ATA only offered accreditation from Japanese to English.
In a couple of years after that, the accreditation exam from English to Japanese was offered for the first time, and of course I took it. I had two jobs in Japan that fall, and I came to the conference in Utah directly from Japan. I had asked my office to send me dictionaries to the hotel in time for the exam. When I checked in, the hotel said they hadn't received any mail for me. I didn't believe them and went around with a hotel staff all over the building looking for a big box of dictionaries. My office said they had sent them. They never arrived, and I had to take the test without my dictionaries. Fortunately, that time it was still allowed for candidates to share dictionaries, so I was at the mercy of other Japanese candidates who sat at the same table as I. I finished the test in two hours, and left the room first. When I came back to the room, my kind roommate comforted me: "There is always next time, you know." She thought I had given up on my test.
I got a notice again that I passed that test, too, and was asked by Don Gorham and other graders at that time to be a grader for J>E and E>J. I said no to J>E: I felt I was not good enough to grade other people's English. However, for E>J, I thought it was an honor to be asked to become a grader, and I accepted the position. Since then, I have become the Language Chair of E>J Subcommittee. One or two years later, I was asked to be the Program Chair of the JLD, which gave me a chance to talk and become friends with many JLD members. It was fun. ATA has given me so much in terms of opening my eyes to a bigger world, and giving me opportunities to learn many things and to get to know many wonderful people. When I felt it was about time to return what I gained from ATA, I ran for the Board and became the first Asian to be on the Board. I wrote a report every quarter for three years to let the JLD members know what the Board was doing. I learned so many things under the leadership of Ann Macfarlane, who was the President at that time. I made more friends beyond the JLD. When I finished my term as a Director, I became the JLD Administrator. The division had been dear to my heart, and I thought I could contribute some to the betterment of the Division. I will be finishing my term this coming November.
It was also at an ATA conference where I met my fellow Michigan interpreters and translators. They were trying to organize a group in Michigan, and I joined with dozen other Michiganders. It was a very informal group that met once a month or so. When it started to lose the original steam, due to people moving away and quitting interpreting or translation jobs, some of us founding members decided to make the group more organized, with a Board to revitalize it. My husband, a lawyer, helped us. We created a Board of five directors, which selected President, and named us the Michigan Translators/Interpreters Network (MiTiN). After a few years, I became the President. Now we have over 100 members, and we are trying to upgrade MiTiN from an ATA "affiliate group" to an ATA Chapter.
Three years ago, I learned through MiTiN that the Supreme Court of Michigan had become a member of the Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification in 1999. A lady from the State of Michigan Court Administration Office contacted me to let me know about their first court interpreting workshop in Detroit. The workshop was "language neutral" and she wanted as many MiTiN members as possible to come to the workshop. Several of us went, and we received well-prepared materials. The instructors were of high caliber, and the workshop was very well done. We learned that Michigan was administering the first court interpreter certification exam in Spanish. I received a big collection of court interpreting glossaries for Spanish and English. They said that the next language they would test in would be in Arabic. (Michigan holds a half million Arabic population.) Japanese was not even in the first ten. However, they told me that if one gets certified in one of the states that is a member of the consortium, they would also recognize that certification in Michigan.
I searched and found out that California was the only state that gave a certification exam in Japanese. I contacted the Judicial Council of California/Administrative Offices of the Courts and received information from Cooperative Personnel Services who actually administers the exam. There is a written test, and an oral test later if one passes the written test. I applied for the written test, and went to Los Angeles to take it. This meant an investment of airfare, 2-night hotel stay and a rent-a-car on top of being unable to work for three days. I made my own glossary of Japanese/English based on the Spanish/English glossaries that I had received at the workshop. The test is to check overall English and Japanese ability, not so much legal terms. I passed the test.
I applied for the oral test. I was wondering how I could prepare myself for it. Then one day when I checked my P. O. Box, there was a letter from the National Court Reporters Association mistakenly put in. It was addressed to some court reporter. I copied the contact number before I returned it to the post office. Then I asked NCRA to send me a tape that court reporter trainees practice with. I practiced consecutive and simultaneous interpreting using the tape. I had a hard time doing simultaneous interpreting for a 140 words/minute section full of legalese. Again I went to Los Angeles, and took a test. The result came back negative. I had failed.
I thought I would try just one more time. I couldn't justify my investment more than that, both in terms of time and money. So I applied for the oral test for last spring. I did better this time, and I received a letter of congratulations in June. I contacted the State of Michigan Court Administrative Office right away, and now I am a certified court interpreter in Michigan. Besides the fact that I like challenges and love tests, why did I take this exam investing so much money (a few thousand dollars) and time (again a few thousand dollars worth of my billable interpreting time)?
The longer I work in the field of translation and interpreting, the stronger I feel the need to educate clients and the next generation translators/interpreters. At least in the automotive industry, I feel I get enough respect and appreciation from my clients. However, in the court system, the profession of interpreters is not understood or appreciated. Judges, prosecutors, administrators and lawyers need to be educated much better in this area. I felt court interpreter certification was required at a minimum for me to be heard.
It just so happened that I have been interpreting for a criminal case from March. This case got really complicated because the state's Family Protective Services and Police hired two incompetent interpreters in the beginning. Both the defendant and the victim were interpreted wrongly by them, and the defendant was charged with a much more serious crime and was convicted. Although the defendant's lawyers realized that the things got much worse due to bad interpreting, they were not confident enough to pursue this issue all the way, and the judge also did not want to touch it. Those interpreters ruined this Japanese family's life, and nothing is done to them because the majority of the people in the judicial system do not understand the mechanism of interpreting. I even stood as an expert witness in this case, but what I could do was limited since I was also the defendant's interpreter. Justice was bent due to the innocent ignorance of the people involved at the court. I witnessed it, but I couldn't do much since I was too involved in this case.
Now, there are about 20 certified court interpreters in Michigan. It is impossible for such a limited number of interpreters to cover all of the cases, but what we should strive for is to stop the court from using unqualified interpreters. We should at least teach them to qualify interpreters. I am a member of the Certified Court Interpreters of Michigan under the umbrella of MiTiN. We are working now to let the courts in Michigan know that we exist, and preparing an introductory presentation to educate the court and lawyers. Fortunately, the administrative office is helping us. This will take time, but it has to be done, and it will be done.