Written by David Mooney

Event name: JATPHARMA Kansai Event for Med/Pharma Writers and Translators

Time and place: 14:00~20:00 November 22, 2014 in Shin-Osaka

Please see the event page for further details of the event and the full profiles of each speaker.

The Gods of logistics smiled on me on the 22nd November last year, as while the majority of the events on the JAT website seem to be held in Tokyo, I was able to use my train pass to get to and from this event in Shin-Osaka where I work.

To break the ice, the event kicked off with a chance to introduce ourselves to colleagues sitting nearby and exchange business cards. One of the translators in my group was even piloting a “virtual business card” approach, whereby instead of exchanging a physical card, she took a photo of our cards with her phone and sent an email after the event. This was not only environmentally friendly, but also a very people-friendly approach as it was nice to receive a personalized email later on.

The afternoon session then began with the following presentation.

I. Daisuke Yanase PhD, (SunFlare, 医薬翻訳者・編集者)

『編集者を助ける一次翻訳五つの心得』 Five Things Translators Can Do to Make Editing Easier

The first presenter of the evening, Mr. Daisuke Yanase, is a senior medical translator for the Tokyo-based translation company, Sunflare Co., Ltd, and has a PhD in plant physiology from Kyoto University.

He addressed the challenge of how to go about producing an accurate translation of the source document while maintaining natural flow in the target language, so as to avoid saddling subsequent editors with extra tasks such as major corrections or retranslation. With an inspiring command of the English language, he tackled Japanese to English translation issues in his presentation.

He first covered a lot of “treacherous technical terms” while asking all of us to provide some of the answers. One example he gave was that 黒目 in Japanese might literally appear to mean “black eye,” but an appropriate translation would be “the transparent part of the eye.” Of course a black eye means something entirely different in English, but I understood the point that there are a lot of terms where a misunderstanding could have disastrous results.

He went on to talk about the importance of: using action verbs whenever possible; giving consideration to pragmatics; recasting sentences; and liberating oneself from the feeling that you need to make a word-for-word translation. I was particularly interested in what Mr. Yanase mentioned in regard to pragmatics: “how the transmission of meaning depends not only on structural and linguistic knowledge . . . of the writer and listener, but also on the context of the utterance, and pre-existing knowledge about those involved, the inferred intent of the speaker, and other factors.” I am aware that texts need to be written in a style that is suitable for the intended audience, but I have never studied this approach to translation, so I was inspired to try to learn a little bit about how translation is affected by pragmatic factors.

Mr. Yanase finished by talking about essential good practice for any translator. That is to break down the sentences in the source language and thoroughly analyze them, before creating new ones in the target language. And also that any translator worth his or her salt needs to ask questions along the way. In Mr. Yanase’s own words: 「質問してくる人は有望」.

Mr. Yanase then spoke briefly about the importance of “interest driven learning.” He mentioned his love of reading and shared how when he has to get rid of books at home to make room for new ones, he takes a picture of the spines of the books lined up on his bookshelf. I liked this idea and would like to take a leaf from his book (pardon the pun) next time I need to make room in my small apartment and also do my best to read more widely in Japanese.

So while Mr. Yanase’s presentation focused on med/pharma terminology and translation it also included a whole host of valuable points for any translator regardless of specialization.

The second presentation of the afternoon was on the topic of Global English and its relevance for med/pharma translators.

II. Rie Moriguchi (author and translator) and Lee Seaman (translator and editor)

Global English for Japanese Medical Writers and Translators

I personally was not familiar with the term "Global English," although, through my experience of writing reports and doing in-house translations for people in some 48 countries around the world, I do have some understanding of the need for it. From this presentation I got a good understanding of what exactly Global English is, and why it is particularly important in the med/pharma translation field.

The presenters for this session, Ms. Lee Seaman and Ms. Rie Moriguchi, have over twenty years’ experience translating in the med/pharma field.

Ms. Seaman is also a regular speaker on the topic of Global English, and I learned this year that she is also the lecturer for an online course offered by Simul Academy consisting of a three-part video series on the theme of Global English for Medical and Pharmaceutical Translators (see link below). She started off by informing us that of all the English research papers submitted to medical journals with international readerships, a mere 28% are written by native speakers, while a whopping 78% are submitted by non-native speakers. With these journals being read by global audiences too, there is a great need for English that can be read and understood easily by non-native and native speakers alike. Enter Global English—which is, as simply explained by the presenters—English that is clear, concise and coherent.

After speaking about the need for Global English and what Global English is, the presenters gave some nice examples of how to turn unwieldy Japanese sentences into smooth, flowing English. One point emphasized by Ms. Seaman in her analysis of the translation examples given, was how a nice parallel structure helps to make sentences clear and easy to read. This is something that I couldn’t agree more with. Here is a link to a practical handout I found online on the topic of parallel structure.

Next the presenters spoke on the topic of using “Global English in Medical Translation.” They did this by focusing on a section of a document that dealt with treatment for dengue fever. The presenters provided the entire document at the back of their handout too, which was useful as you could see the context in which the sections that they focused on were written.

Again this presentation was interactive and engaging with plenty of discussion focusing on translation issues that the speakers pointed out in the selected document on dengue fever, as well as in a short passage on the topic of diabetes in children in Japan that they had given us to translate in advance. Ms. Seaman and Ms. Moriguchi shared their excellent translations with us, while taking comments from the floor, which were also very interesting to hear. The speakers offered practical tips; for example, when you come across a technical term, such as “serotype” and are not exactly sure how to use it in a sentence, you can search the term online and look at how it is used in context on reputable websites (such as the WHO site), which can help you to find the right usage for your sentence.

Ms. Moriguchi, who is also active as a medical translation educator and author, mentioned that she sometimes sees beginning translators trying to read highly technical medical textbooks, whereas she felt that often such a high level of knowledge is not necessary to translate. Rather, she said that it is usually sufficient to have a broad basic knowledge of fundamentals. For example, when something related to antibodies comes up, she mentioned that it is good to be aware that there are basically five different types of antibodies, and that, say, the antibody IgE is related to allergies. This was encouraging for someone like myself who is looking into developing new translation specializations.

Before I knew it, it was time for our bento supper. I'm glad I decided to stay for it, as it gave me a chance to meet and chat with some more of my fellow participants, and Mr. Tompkins’ evening workshop was well worth staying a little late for.

One point raised as we chatted over our bentos was about the discussion during the Global English presentation. My fellow diner made a good point when he mentioned that in addition to looking at the technicalities of creating translations written in good Global English, it would also have been nice to expand the discussion to address what exactly Global English is and talk about its pros and cons and so on. I think in order to really get a feel for what Global English is, it is essential to get into the nuts and bolts of it as we did with this presentation, so maybe there just wasn't time enough time to get into discussing the concept of Global English itself this time. It could, however, be a good discussion topic for future JATPHARMA gatherings, especially given that many people will have already have developed an understanding of the topic thanks to this presentation.

Recommendations for further reading given by the presenters:

  • The Global English Style Guide by John R. Kohl, SAS Institute (2008)
  • The Elements of International English Style by Edmond H. Weiss, M.E.Sharpe (2005)

Three-part video lecture series by Ms. Seaman offered through Simul International on the topic of Global English for Medical and Pharmaceutical Translators.

After the break for supper, the event continued with an evening workshop.

III. Ben Tompkins, MA (med/pharma translator)

Workshop on PMDA Queries (照会事項) for Pharma Translators

I estimate that a good two thirds of the participants remained behind for the bento supper followed by this evening workshop. The presenter, Mr. Ben Tompkins, is the President and Chief Translator of Tompkins Biomedical Communications and also serves as Vice President and Regional/SIG liaison for JAT. He waited patiently for us to finish up our bentos before presenting us with an excellent overview of the process of 照会事項—or, as I learned, requests for clarification issued by the PMDA in response to a consultation request or a clinical trial notification.

This workshop required greater input on the part of participants as there was a more involved assignment sent out in advance for us to do. Again, there was plenty of interaction between Mr. Tompkins and everyone in the audience throughout. The pre-workshop assignment consisted of reading over a PowerPoint presentation that Mr. Tompkins had used in a previous presentation on this topic, and also answering questions based on the information in the PowerPoint and other online sources of information shared by Mr. Tompkins. When I first looked at the homework I had difficulty understanding it, but after getting a slight taste of what it is like to be doing a 照会事項 translation late on a Friday night myself (!), it started to make some sense. The points I wasn’t able to figure out were answered during the workshop. This process of trying to figure things out yourself first before attending the workshop really helped to consolidate the information that was conveyed, so I thought it was an excellent way of proceeding.

During the workshop, Mr. Tompkins looked at common terms and sentence constructions and shared a very useful translation checklist, which included: things to consider and ask clients about before starting a translation (such as, what are their expectations in regard to the three fifty-page pdf files that they included for reference!); planning the formatting and style you will use; and building a toolkit of resources, including a self-developed blacklist of terms to avoid using. See below for other resources he mentioned.

He also shared practical tips such as the fact that it is perfectly fine in English not to use “please” twenty times just because the Japanese uses ください twenty times or more, and how the use of “power verbs” can make for a nice clear and direct sentence.

As the organizers had decided to give us more time to finish our supper and chat with our fellow participants than scheduled, Mr. Tompkins kindly continued with the workshop until around 20:40 for all who wished to stay, as the room was booked until 21:00. In fact Mr. Tompkins had prepared enough material for us to continue for hours more, but we did cover a lot of ground overall and from the general buzz in the room I think it is safe to say that everyone enjoyed the process of splitting into groups and putting their heads together with colleagues.

Online reference material shared by Mr. Tompkins:

As for the organization of the event as a whole, Ms. Sako Ikegami provided us with pre-event information via email and was lightning quick to respond to inquiries from participants. I was a little nervous about attending for the first time, but when I emailed to introduce myself Ms. Ikegami made me feel very welcome to the event with her warm reply. As it was my first time (or maybe just because I am not tech-savvy enough), I was left somewhat in the dark when she mentioned in an email that the Peatix site would be up soon, though, as I had no idea what Peatix was at the time. After using it for this event, however, I learned that the Peatix App is really useful as you can buy your ticket for events through it, with no need for a paper ticket, and it also stores basic information on the event with a map to the venue on your personal page. So I think it was a good choice by the organizers to use it.

In addition to the tasty and hearty bento that we had the option of purchasing for 1,200 yen, the organizers laid on good quality tea and coffee with plenty of biscuits/cookies—which I think were also much appreciated by participants. So for 4000 yen for JAT members for the whole event (not including the bento) it was a great deal. All participants also received a copy of the JAT publication Translator Perspectives 2014 so I think that was an added incentive for non-JAT members, for whom the cost was 6000 yen. I didn’t notice any mention on the JAT website that participants would receive a copy of the publication, but I think it would be worth mentioning, as there seemed to be quite a few people who were not JAT members in attendance and it would be an added incentive for people to come along. I was glad to receive a copy myself in the post after joining JAT.

In sum then, I think last year’s JATPHARMA Kansai Event was well worth attending. I came away with:

  • lots of tips for being a better translator (who will not invoke the wrath of subsequent editors!) and some idea of the kinds of pitfalls that exist with technical terms in the med/pharma field;
  • an awareness and understanding of the concept of Global English and its relevance for med/pharma translation;
  • a good basic understanding of what 照会事項 are, together with some very practical tips for how to go about translating them;
  • plenty of references for further study about the topics covered.

But that was not all. I also made the acquaintance of a number of friendly translators in the med/pharma field. So I think the most significant thing I got from the day was an enormous sense of encouragement that there is a support network like the JATPHARMA SIG out there, whose members are actively looking out for fellow translators. The presenters and fellow translators kindly offered advice in response to questions I asked in relation to considering different specializations and learning about med/pharma translation both on the day of the event and by email later.

I am continuing to consider different specializations and career options but knowing that there is a support network like this out there for med/pharma translation makes me think that with hard work and application doing some level of translation in this field may not be out of the question. In addition to this event itself, I have been particularly impressed with the level of mutual support offered on the JATPHARMA SIG mailing list (although I must admit that most of the questions and replies go right over my head).

Some of the JAT members I met at last November’s events recommended browsing through the information available to members on the JAT website and one of my goals for this year is to try to make the most of those resources. All the work that has gone into building them up so far is much appreciated. I just wish I had joined JAT sooner!

I hope that you enjoyed reading my impressions of last November’s event and hopefully see you at a JAT event sometime in the future.

David Mooney is an in-house Japanese to English translator at the Osaka headquarters of a worldwide supplementary education provider. He’s from Ireland, but has been based in Kobe for quite a few years now, having originally come to Japan on the JET Programme at the end of the last century. Currently seriously considering what to do with himself from here on, he joined JAT in September 2014 and promptly signed up for the JAT SIG mailing lists in order to try to find out about specializations and learn a bit more about the translation industry in general. In his spare time these days, he enjoys playing with his soon-to-be four years old son and tries to resist the urge to mooch and do some MOOCing instead.