When you cannot afford not to hire a good interpreter: Should you care how your “思う” (literal meaning = to think) is interpreted into the target language?
Admittedly, there are occasions when you can get away with hiring an interpreter solely on the basis of cost. A good example is when the only reason for hiring an interpreter is to show your counterpart that you care enough about the meeting to hire an interpreter.
On the other hand, there are meetings where every word, every ounce of nuance counts in order to convey the intended message. I remember a tense meeting between two companies where both sides blamed each other for the loss of a significant amount of money in a joint project. I had been briefed by the Japanese company I was interpreting for that they had planned what they were going to say very carefully and I was to make sure that everything they say must be interpreted exactly how it was intended including emotions. They also added that the last time they used an interpreter, it was a case of the interpreter just replacing words from Japanese to English and they did not achieve the result they hoped for.
I remembered the above assignment when I was reading a Japanese manga,“Haikyu!!”, in English translation and noticed there are three different versions of translations for the same line depending on the media (comic book, two different streaming channels) and only one of them was correct. The original sentence was “ (ただ) 何本かは止めてやろうと思っているだけ“ which is comprised of the components of “(but), a few, to stop, will/am going to, thinking, just” in the order of appearance.
The line shown in the picture, “I’m planning on stopping a few of his spikes” is an accurate translation but there are two other versions, which are:
1) I’m thinking of stopping a few of his spikes and
2) I’m hoping to stop a few of his spikes.
Now you see a big difference between the three. This character, a volleyball player, fully intends to block at least a few of the opponent's spikes during the match. Because the verb in the original Japanese sentence is 思う, whose most common literal meaning is “to think”, the translators of 1) and 2) just replaced the verb and settled on “think” and “hope” without looking into the intention of this remark. The original sentence includes an expression やろう (yarou) which means ‘I will”, “I’m going to” or “I have a mind to”, which shows his resolution. So, he is not just hoping or thinking of blocking a few spikes but declaring he will stop a few spikes if not more.
This scene appears as a flashback during one of the most, if not the most, important scenes of the entire story where he actually blocks a spike from the opponent’s ace spiker who is believed to be the best spiker in the entire prefecture and considered unstoppable. And there is a very long build-up, over many volumes, leading to this flashback. So, I was quite taken aback to read the incorrect translations.
That said, I have no intention of blaming the translators. I know they are under tight deadlines and probably for not much money. Besides, each volume, or even each chapter might be translated by different translators. So there’s no guarantee that the translators have sufficient background knowledge of the story and are aware of the gravity of the line. When I was starting out as an interpreter, I used to do a lot of written translations too. One of the assignments was to translate the episode summaries of the popular American sit-com, “The Big Bang Theory”. I translated maybe a dozen summaries but ended up watching a lot more episodes to get enough background knowledge (now I have watched all the episodes). Unfortunately, however, we can’t expect all translators to do the same nor should we.
My point is that there are occasions in real interpreting settings, where such mistakes can have grave consequences. Just imagine this kind of mistranslation happening during an important meeting where the stakes are high. If your strong determination was interpreted into something like “I’m hoping”, would it have the same impact on the listener as intended? Would it have the same weight? The answers are obvious.
Good interpreters are those who know how to interpret a simple “think” depending on the context given enough information. Good clients are those who tell their interpreter exactly what they want from the upcoming meeting and provide her/him with enough information. Good meetings are where the client and the interpreter work as a team towards the same goal. And that’s when a client cannot afford not to hire a good interpreter.