The judges of the 6th annual JAT translation contest for new and aspiring translators (Japanese to English) have made their final decision, and the results are as follows:

There were 39 entrants and the semi-finalists in the Japanese to English division, in order of the numbers assigned to their entries, were:

99. Monica Kassab
108. Jillian Nonaka
120. Jason Morgan
123. Stephen Jensen
162. Elise Kavanagh

After much deliberation, the judges awarded prizes as follows:

First place: No. 162, Elise Kavanagh
Second place: No. 108, Jillian Nonaka

Many thanks to everyone who applied. Choosing the winners was a difficult task, given the number of entries and their level. Even if you did not win, we hope you found the contest to be a challenging and worthwhile exercise, and we hope that some of you will try again next year.

Charles Aschmann
Manako Ihaya
Contest Liaison

Commentaries from the Judges

Malcolm James

The stated purpose of the contest is "to cultivate new talent in commercial non-literary translation." In judging, I was trying to find the person with the most talent to become a top commercial translator, not the person who produced the best translation at this stage. Simple misinterpretations are likely to disappear with experience, so I regard them as less of a problem than if this were an actual commercial translation. I’m much less willing, however, to be lenient on translators who submit a translation that doesn’t seem to have got a final read-through, or who produce a translation that doesn’t seem to have considered the document’s context and purpose. Each of the entries commented on below has its own merits and displays the signs of a competent translator. All the finalists have the potential to be good commercial translators and are to be congratulated on their efforts.

General points

This year's passage for translation was very dense. Careful reading of both the passage and of its context on the website were essential to ensure full understanding. The translators consequently had to do a lot of research, both to confirm the meaning of the original, and to check appropriateness of phrasing for the translation. The section on medical infrastructure proved particularly difficult, with none of the finalists or other entrants producing a completely "correct" translation. However, the difficulty of the task gave the entrants a good opportunity to demonstrate their skills at translating with both accuracy and readability.

Specific points for #099

This translation was easy to read, and had some very good phrasing. Examples that stood out include "offer telecommuting options," and "for children who need a place to go after school." However, simplifications to aid legibility often went too far, resulting in mistranslations such as a "City of 42 Million" (not just one city, surely) and "Pedestrian crossing with bicycle lane ..." (the crossing in the photo doesn't appear to have a separate bicycle lane.) The translator writes well, so further improvement would come from going through the Japanese text again after finishing the translation to check that all the content of the original has been covered.

Specific points for #108

This translation was well written and easy to read, but there were areas where it hinted that the translator did not really understand the document and how it related to the overall context. For instance, this document was one page of a pdf containing basically one project per page, so it seemed odd to have "projects" plural in the title. Also, it seems odd to say "we are working to ..." in the introductory paragraph when the project has not yet got the goahead. In contrast, subsection titles were well thought out and well translated. I particularly liked "Revitalizing our planned communities" for succinctly conveying the basic point that the Japanese postwar New Towns are no longer new. How to improve? Think more about the overall context to gain a deeper understanding of the document before translating. A "reality check" of the finished translation would also be helpful. For instance, look at the map and ask, "does Tokyo really only have about a dozen highways?" With a deeper understanding of the documents to be translated, the translation and writing skills shown here provide the potential for this entrant to become a very good translator.

Specific points for #120

The translator had obviously understood the overall context of the document and tried hard to convey all the meaning, showing flair for translation through phrases like "... running community buses." However, the translation was let down by being hard to read and by mistranslations such as "flex-time" and "typical" sidewalk (probably "ideal"/"model"). The mistranslations are likely to disappear as the translator gains experience, so to improve, the translator needs to work on his/her style. Start by looking for instance at how 108 handled the introductory paragraph, expressing almost the same information in only half the number of words.

Specific points for #123

This translation had some very good translations of the public sector terminology, and fewer errors than any of the other finalists but sometimes ending up being more difficult to read than the original. For instance, the introductory paragraph could have been shorter or split into more than one sentence. However, I particularly liked phrases such as "diverse housing options," integrated components," and "repurposing." The danger of adding explanations to the original was demonstrated by adding a note that defined the Tokyo metropolitan region in a way that incorrectly excluded places like Hachioji. Improvement would come by spending more time on rephrasing the translation for legibility without losing the accuracy that is this translator's strong point.

Specific points for #162

This translation was a little hard to read, but achieved a good overall balance between readability and accuracy. Most importantly, the translator gave the impression of having largely understood what the text was talking about. This understanding was then enhanced by neat but still accurate translations such as "Ensuring ample space for bicycles and pedestrians." How to improve? First of all, I strongly recommend doing a rigorous numbers and omissions check before delivery. That would probably eliminate embarrassing errors such as putting 2005 in the future and missing out one of the captions. Overall though, this was the translation that most demonstrated the entrant's potential to become a top commercial translator.

Ken Wagner

"Let's 徹底 Everything"

Subject line of a query on the Honyaku
mailing list ([email protected])

At the very moment I submit this commentary, a five-day-long debate on the Honyaku mailing list continues to rage over how to handle the relentless overuse of 徹底(する) in a piece of hyperbolic company literature. A reasonable suggestion was to consider 徹底 an adverb and insert the appropriate verb (do whatever thoroughly, exhaustively, meticulously, comprehensively, rigorously). The thread has grown to almost 50 messages, has apparently spawned some hurt feelings, and has still not abated.
The Honyaku poster's quandary with 徹底 embodies one of the major challenges facing this year's JAT Translation Contest participants – translating a message that could easily be obscured by bureaucratese. The number of responses evoked by the 徹底 question on the Honyaku list is evidence of the difficultly – or at least the labor – involved in rendering trite bureaucratic jargon into readable and informative English. I would therefore like to say early on that all five finalists did an excellent job of circumventing the bureaucratese to bring a clear message to the reader. For fairness' sake, however, it should probably also be said that in some instances, these words were actually used to convey their basic meanings.
The passage for the Japanese to English portion of 2009 JAT Translation Contest was 人口4,200万人が暮らしやすく美しい地域の実現 – a piece of fairly interesting and valuable information obscured by a familiar list of bureaucratic buzzwords – 徹底, 充実, 実現, 推進, 促進, 提供, and 整備. The contest passage is a development plan for residential communities for a Greater Tokyo Area coping with a rapidly aging population and declining birthrate. The passage was taken from the website of the Regional Development Bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism.

Judging Technique and Results

To evaluate the translations, I first read them without referring to the Japanese text and ranked them based on the sound of the English and whether they seem to make sense. (In the case of this year's JAT contest, I hadn't seen Japanese text for at least two months.) I then use a modified form of the ATA grading scale to mark errors and examples of particularly good writing or interpretation and obtain negative and positive numerical scores. I also compared the translations of a list of key terms to assess the amount of research done and, as a result, how familiar the entrants seemed to be with the subject matter. This produced a numerical score for amount of research done. I then compared these numerical scores with my initial subjective judgments and made a final subjective decision on which translation was best conformed to the translation instructions at the beginning of the passage and also demonstrated potential for growth on the part of the translator.
When I read the entries without reference to the Japanese text (after not looking at the Japanese text for a couple of months), I ranked Elise Kavanagh's entry the highest for subjective impression. It was smooth and tightly written and contained very few translation artifacts. After Elise, Monica Kassab, Jillian Nonaka, and Jason Morgan's entries seemed equal in readability to me, although Jason's had obviously been filled out with explanatory information not evident in the other translations. Stephen Jensen's entry had more of a translated sound to my ear, although it turned out to be quite accurate.
I modified the ATA grading scale for the JAT contest. The actual ATA scale only identifies errors (misunderstanding, grammatical errors, inappropriate register, etc.). I added a positive scale to reflect traits like accuracy and elegance (or eloquence) and to produce a positive score for lines that were translated well.
Using the ATA grading scale, the results were Jillian Nonaka (negative, 55; positive, 33), Elise Kavanagh (negative, 66; positive, 30), Stephen Jensen (negative, 77; positive, 26), and Monica Kassab (negative, 93; positive, 28), and Jason Morgan (negative, 96; positive, 19).
I tried to evaluate the amount of research done independent of language comprehension and target writing errors. To do this, I selected 12 key words that identify how much research or reading on the subject was done. The terms or translations I preferred could be found by 1) reading county social service or urban planning websites from the United States (e.g., for social services), 2) searching the term in question alone in quotes on Google and working through to an English definition (e.g., through Wikipedia), or 3) searching the term and とは in quotes on Google. The terms were:

1. 福祉 (social services, not welfare)
2. 子育て (not child-rearing)
3. 重層的 (something like multi-tiered)
4. 保育所 (something like daycare, not nursery [school])
5. 介護 (something like assisted living, not nursing home)
6. 視覚障害者誘導用ブロック (tactile paving, truncated domes, detectable warnings, tactile ground surface indicators, detectable warning surfaces)
7. イメージ (artist's conception when appropriate)
8. ニュウータウン等 (explained in some way)
9. デイサービスセンター (identified as a facility for seniors)
10. (疾病ごとの)医療連携体制 (translation shows a description has been read in Japanese)
11. 消防 (emergency services, not firemen/fire department)
12. 新型インフレンザ (this year, H1N1)

Here, "yes" means the rendering of a term shows evidence of research/reading on the subject and "no" means the rendering doesn't show that research was done. The scores were, in descending order: Elise Kavanagh (yes, 7 terms; no, 5 terms), Jason Morgan (yes, 6½ terms; no, 5½ terms), Jillian Nonaka (yes, 4 terms; no, 8 terms), Stephen Jensen (yes, 4 terms; no, 8 terms), and Monica Kassab (yes, 2½ terms; no, 9½ terms).
As a result, Elise Kavanagh and Jillian Nonaka came out in the lead, but were very close. Elise had the highest subjective impression and research scores. Jillian had the highest modified ATA score (accuracy and individual flashes of eloquence), was in third place for research, and was in a three-way tie for second place in subjective impression.

Individual Renderings

I should repeat that Elise Kavanagh and Jillian Nonaka were very close, very little distinguished the two. In fact, one judge chose Jillian's as the first-place entry, and quite a bit of deliberation among the judges was required before finally deciding on Elise's entry. I selected Elise's entry because objectively, Elise appeared to have done the most research and, subjectively, the translation elicited the most positive visceral reaction on the initial read. This difference may have rested on only a few key words and phrases that made Elise's version seem less translated. For example, Elise simply stated that the Tokyo area population will peak, used the term "multi-tiered" (approach), and avoided a translated sound in the turn of phrase "supporting families and ensuring the safety and security of children." While Jillian Nonaka had many turns of phrase that I considered eloquent, the use of the following English terms and phrases may have triggered a negative visceral reaction: "child-rearing" (antiquated), "stratified plans" (in this context), "nursery schools" (antiquated), and the phrase "setting up nursery schools during the renovation of public housing complexes" (rather than something "like incorporating daycare centers into public housing").
As for the three remaining contestants, who all turned in good translations, Jason Morgan's chief misstep was over-explaining the text, perhaps explaining it to himself, while Monica Kassab sacrificed meaning for elegant English. I can sympathize Jason and Monica and do not consider these missteps an obstacle to further development because I went through both of these phases myself. Where Elise and others simply translated 公共賃貸宅等の建替えに併せた福祉施設の併設・誘致 as something like "housing redevelopments which include or attract new welfare centers," Jason said "building welfare facilities in conjunction with the rebuilding of public housing projects and inviting bids for similar construction projects." While bids and construction projects may be required, there was no mention of them in the text and this is information that the reader can figure out for himself (or doesn't need to know, depending upon whether he is a potential resident or contractor). At the other end of the spectrum, Monica dropped large pieces of text for the sake of elegance. She translated 地域内の医師の確保方策の推進、かかりつけ医やかかりつけ薬局の普及による適切な医療の機能分担の推進、疾病ごとの医療連携体制の構築など地域医療体制の充実 (accomplish x by doing three things) as "promote the increased use of local doctors and pharmacies to properly distribute the burden on these facilities" (accomplish x by doing two things). This rendering omitted 疾病ごとの医療連携体制の構築 – develop coordinated response systems for individual diseases. Monica also omitted similar units of meaning in other passages in other passages.
Once again, I would like to express my appreciation for the effort and care that went into the translations in this year's contest, thank all of the contestants for participating, and congratulate the finalists and winner.

Lee Seaman

Comments on JAT Translation Contest entries
This was an excellent group of translations. My compliments to all of the finalists, and my thanks to the organizers of the contest for providing this showcase for new translation talent.

This is a challenging piece. In order to make sense of it, the translator had to not only convey the meaning of the Japanese words, but also to understand the document in the context of Japanese society and public housing policy.

Each finalist made at least a few errors. My picks for first and second place were those passages that I felt most clearly communicated the underlying meaning of the Japanese with the fewest areas of serious misunderstanding.

Working premises

The instructions for the contest were clear. The translation is for a government website, publication quality, for native English speaking readers, and the translator is to incorporate explanatory notes if necessary.

Based on these instructions, I made the assumption that the translation should be easy to read and friendly in tone (more so, for example, than a journal article on a study of innovative cancer therapy in lab rats). So in addition to looking for translation accuracy, I also evaluated each passage on how well it conveyed the message of the original text, and I penalized awkward expressions more than I would in a translation that was primarily for information.

General comments

Here are three points in the Japanese document that I thought were particularly challenging.

1) 地域優良賃貸住宅
This caption in the second figure was translated by the five finalists as “deluxe public housing,” “high-quality rental apartments,” “high quality apartments,” “high quality local rental housing,” and “local upscale apartment complex.” The judges had a lively discussion over this term, too, including some very helpful input from one of the E-J judges, who told us that 地域優良賃貸住宅 is a relatively new system combining 特定優良賃貸住宅(「特優賃」とくゆうちん) and 高齢者向け優良賃貸住宅(「高優賃」こうゆうちん)and that probably the reference in this case is to(「高優賃」).

I found a useful paper at Chapter 4 describes the augmentations that are specified for senior residences; they are not really “luxury” or “upscale” so much as they are designed for the safety and comfort of seniors living alone. So one possible translation would be “public housing with augmented safety features for seniors.” But of course that means adding quite a lot of material that is not included in the text. I would probably translate it as “senior-friendly public housing” or “rental housing with augmented features,” and add a note asking the client to confirm.

2) New Town
Two translators left this “as is” in the English translation. Although the term “New Town” is widely used in English, in this case the term is combined with 再生,so clearly these “new towns” are actually quite old. To reduce reader confusion (“Why are they revitalizing a new town?”) I would recommend “planned community” or “planned residential community” instead.

3) 地域子育て支援拠点の整備等乳幼児を持つ親が気軽に交流・相談できる場の提供 
The term 乳幼児 is often translated, even in J-E medical dictionaries, as “infant,” but that is incorrect. An infant is technically a child under 12 months old, and the word is not used much in casual speech. “Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers” would be accurate here, but the best translation in this context is simply “small children.”

Individual comments

1) No. 162
A workmanlike translation that does a good job of communicating the meaning of the website. Prose is straightforward and clean. The heading “5. An urban development initiative to meet the needs of a society with a low birth rate and an aging population” is particularly clear, and sets the tone for the remainder of the article.
The statement that “ … the population over the age of 65 years will grow to 20% in 2005 and 30% in 2025” implies that this article was written before 2005. It should have been “ … will grow from 20% in 2005 to 30% in 2025.” And toward the end of the article, “ … fire and medical organizations” would be easier to read if it were restated as “fire departments and medical organizations,” or even “fire departments (ambulance) and medical organizations” for greater clarity.
The author of No.162 appears to be a very competent translator, but some of the English phrases sound a little awkward to my ear. This could be improved by working for awhile with an experienced editor, and perhaps by reading translations aloud after they are finished. (I read most of my translations aloud during checking, and always find awkward spots that didn’t show up during writing.)

2) No. 108
Very readable prose, with some beautifully translated phrases. In a document like this, headings are especially important for communicating the underlying message, and No. 108 provided some excellent headings, including “good for everyone in an aging society,” “revitalizing our planned communities,” and “constructing a medical system that instills a sense of safety and peace of mind.
Unfortunately this translation also has a relatively high percentage of errors and potentially confusing expressions. I found two major examples. On page 1, “renting out housing that belongs to senior citizens” suggests that the government might be taking away the houses of seniors. On page 3, “Wide sidewalks for pedestrians which resolve the problems of height differences” does not mention that these new wide sidewalks are for bicyclists as well as pedestrians, and “height differences” confused me. (Will all pedestrians be the same height?) Something like “curb-free crosswalks” would work better.
Passage #108 shows real writing talent. Additional attention to accuracy will provide a promising future in translation.

Other translations:

No. 099: A good translation, fluent and easy to read, and provides a good impression of the website, but less clear and with a higher level of errors and awkward expressions than the two winners. For example, “the borrowing and rerenting of houses” is confusing, and suggests that the government will take elderly people’s homes without paying. ニュータウン等の再生 was translated as “Creating the New Town,” which implies that new communities will be built from scratch. “Rejuvenating” would be a better choice. In the section on rebuilding the healthcare system, “ … use of local doctors and pharmacies to properly distribute the burden on these facilities” should have been something like “… use of local doctors and pharmacies to redistribute the overall burden on medical facilities,” and no reference to telemedicine was included for 遠隔医療.The translation of photo captions was generally good; my favorite is “Pedestrian crossing with bicycle lane and no curb.”

No. 120: A good command of technical language, and very precise, but a little stilted and wordy for this particular passage. For example, in the first sentence, “As a consequence of the realities of Japanese society, which is becoming increasingly elderly, on average with a steadily decreasing number of children being conceived” could be rewritten as “Japanese society is growing older, with fewer children born every year, and …” 疾病ごとの医療連携体制の構築 refers to developing a coordinated medical response for specific diseases; if that is what was meant by linking “individual hospitals into a wider medical care network,” the connection should be spelled out in greater detail. I really liked the caption, “Artist’s rendition of an integrated complex featuring public housing projects and social welfare facilities.”

No. 123: A solid translation, indicating a good understanding of the material, with some very well-crafted expressions and some unfortunate awkward spots. Awkward expressions included “amplifying information exchange” (I would recommend “expediting” or “improving” rather than “amplifying”) and “fostering businesses who take on local issues” (“encouraging businesses to take on local issues” would be easier to understand). Errors included the omission of “tertiary” in the Japanese expression 三次救急医療機関,and the erroneous use of “intensive care” rather than “emergency” in that same passage. Some of my personal favorites were “mobile clinics and telemedicine,” “ostomate-accessible toilets,” “Stimulate civic involvement in local town management,” and “promoting physician recruitment strategies.”

A final word

This year’s documents were generally quite clearly formatted. Several candidates used italics to set off the caption headings, making them easier to find on the page, and one person even cut out the graphics from the Japanese PDF and pasted them into the English document. That’s not required, but it does make the job of the judge or client easier. (In that light, I recommend that future candidates format their passages in proportional font rather than monospaced font like Courier or MS Gothic – the files come to the judges as PDFs, and proportional font is generally much easier to read when we print the documents out for review.)

I also strongly recommend that you ask questions of your colleagues if you are not sure of the meaning of a certain phrase or paragraph. Obviously it is unethical to have someone else translate the document for you, or to substantially rewrite what you have translated. But the JAT contest is designed to be somewhat like a “real” translation job for an actual translation agency, and one test of a good translator is his or her network of experts on call. If your native language is English, develop some knowledgeable NSJ friends with whom you exchange information. A number of the errors in these passages could have been avoided by a few strategic questions to a trusted colleague.

Again, my congratulations to all contestants on a job well-done. I look forward to watching your growth as translation professionals.