March 1, 2007｜Russia
Interpreter / Lecturer, Irkutsk State Linguistic University
Every year approximately 20 students enter the Japanese Language Department in the university at which I work. The motives for having chosen Japanese are various, including modern culture and anime. Naturally there are also many students who are interested in traditional culture. When we hold courses in ikebana and the tea ceremony, as well as origami and calligraphy, etc., quite a number of students will attend. Martial arts are also popular, with many students practicing karate, aikido and kendo. Seeing students walking holding bamboo swords in a small city in Siberia makes me feel a little strange. Though having a wide variety of such interests, what all students will say in unison is “I want a job using Japanese”.
Students who have an interest purely in Japan or Japanese become conscious about looking for employment around the second half of their fourth year (Russian university courses last five years). In the Russian university system, in addition to one’s specialty, there is also something termed “qualification”. Upon graduation, “qualification” is also entered on the certificate of completion in addition to the specialty. Examples are, in the following fashion: “economist” for the Faculty of Economics, and “interpreter” for the Faculty of Foreign Languages. This “qualification” has great importance when securing employment.
With a present where the economy is growing rapidly and students starting up businesses, the specialties which are popular are economics, law and management. Meanwhile, with the subjects being offered by the Linguistic University being for the most part linguistics-related, students also take courses at the Baikal National University of Economics and Law (formerly Irkutsk State Economics Academy), etc., and people getting an economics- or law-related “qualification” have increased. In a small city like Irkutsk, working solely as an “interpreter” is nigh-on impossible. Even having the qualification of “interpreter” doesn’t mean there will be permanent work using Japanese. If no one else it is the business people of Irkutsk who will have thought about getting someone in to translate when Japanese people visit or when they get in contact with Japan, and employ a student who has got the qualification of “interpreter”.
So then what kind of work do graduates do? Leaving aside mid-career recruiting, the Japanese language ability of new graduates is not held as dependable. There are many companies which undertake their dealings in English, and the truth is they carry out business despite not having a highly-competent interpreter. What I’d like to say as an instructor is that we proudly send out brilliant students, but in Irkutsk, where there are almost no Japanese people except for the Japanese language instructors at the university, the current situation is one of casting our students out into society with no practical training, while the places for part-time jobs using Japanese are limited to guides and secondhand car-dealerships. As the best students leave immediately for Japan or the big cities, there are also no colleagues or college-seniors whose skills they can learn from. It cannot be said that the remuneration in a company to an inexperienced interpreter of Japanese is good. What is required in routine business is neither interpreting nor translation, but a knowledge of computers, management, and bookkeeping, etc. In the actual business of interpreting it goes without saying that broad-ranging specialist knowledge and computer skills are required. In business, economic, and cultural interactions between people from different countries, the existence of interpreters to bridge the gap is becoming highly important. Interaction will probably take place even without words, but if we are thinking about producing definite results and about cooperation in the future, then like it or not interpreting ability and knowledge are necessary. Having considered the futures of the students and the needs of the region, then teaching only interpreting skills will probably be to no avail.
I think the people in Russia with jobs involving Japan and the Japanese language need to give careful thought from now on to the educating of the next generation. They should provide the things necessary in order that the students, learning Japanese with pure hearts and for all they’re worth, make the best use of that knowledge and become able to undertake enjoyable (but in actuality hard) work. That is something which universities must do from this point on.
I want everyone to recognize the importance of interpreting work. To that end, it will also become necessary for a change in the thinking of the students themselves, the universities training interpreters and those employing interpreters. Yet I understand how difficult it would be to do just that . . .