By now, you realize that I speak some Japanese, but not enough to give a full presentation. In addition to English, I can present Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, but am not yet comfortable doing a full hour talk in Japanese, especially when technical terminology is required.
This brings us to the differences between translation and interpretation. The former is more literal, but the latter is needed to get the spirit or essence of what is being communicated. Sometimes, the differences in languages and culture need to be taken into account to get the right meaning across.
- One phrase, different interpretation
The conference attire was listed as "Business Casual" which they use the foreign words, as it is a very foreign concept to the Japanese. In the US, Business Casual could be polo shirt and kahki pants, perhaps. In Japan, where everyone wears a dark suit, white shirt and conservative tie, "business casual" means your shirt can be blue, or have stripes. Few dressed down for the occasion; I saw mostly white shirts underneath those dark suit coats.
- One interpretation, different connotations
Working with my interpreter team, I went page by page to explain what I would say. On one page, I mentioned having "free space" to run applications. They asked if "free space" was good or bad? I was caught off-guard by this question. Americans enjoy wide open spaces, and the comforts afforded by having enough "leg room", "head room" or "elbow room".The Japanese word for this is "yoyu", which roughly translates to "leeway". However, "yoyu" also is used in the negative sense, tailored-to-fit clothing, for example, is preferred over loose-fitting off-the-rack clothing, because it has no "yoyu". Having too much "free space" can be just as bad as not enough, much like an hour presentation that ends 20 minutes too early is just as bad as one that goes 20 minutes over.
- One word, two different interpretations
In explaining the word "archive" we came up with two separate Japanese words. One was "katazukeru", and the other was "shimau".If you are clearing the dinner plates from the table after your meal, for example, it could be done for two reasons.Both words mean "to put away", but the motivation that drives this activity changes the word usage. The first reason, katazukeru, is because the table is important, you need the table to be empty or less cluttered to use it for something else, perhaps play some card game, work on arts and craft, or pay your bills. The second reason, shimau, is because the plates are important, perhaps they are your best tableware, used only for holidays or special occasions only, and you don't want to risk having them broken. As it turns out, IBM supports both senses of the word archive. We offer "space management" when the space on the table, (or disk or database), is more important, so older low-access data can be moved off to less expensive disk or tape. We also offer "data retention" where the data itself is valuable, and must be kept on WORM or non-erasable, non-rewriteable storage to meet business or government regulatory compliance.
- Sames words, different order
On many of my charts, we show on the left the entry-level models, in the center the midrange offerings, and on the right the enterprise class high-end devices. In English, I would say "Small, Medium, and Large". However, in Japan, they read from right to left, and their words "Dai, Chu, Sho" represent "Large, Medium, Small". So, the chart had the offerings on the page correctly sequenced, I just had to start on the right, and work my way to the left, from largest to smallest.