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Your background and what did you study? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

After finishing school, Richa Jayal toyed with the idea of graduating in English literature and becoming a journalist. But once she asked around, she discovered there was more scope in learning a foreign language like Japanese. “They (friends learning languages) said the options are really good,” she recalls.

That got Jayal involved with the pictorial language — requiring her to learn at least three scripts and 2,000 characters to comprehend simple text. “The number of characters increases if you have to read a technical article,” says Anita Khanna, professor of Japanese at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Thanks to the supply-demand mismatch, good Japanese language translators/interpreters are among the better-paid ones compared to those for other languages, say experts.

Jayal did her Bachelor’s in Japanese from JNU in 1998, and with a scholarship from the Japanese government, she did a Master’s level advanced diploma from Kansai International School of Languages, Japan.

What do you do?

Originally from Dehradun, Jayal, 30, now works for Germany-based Duetsche Bank’s Tokyo office from her Noida home — translating equity and economic reports.

Before this, she was with Indian infotech company HCL’s Tokyo office as sales coordinator, interfacing between their team and Japanese clients since 2001. She later moved to HCL’s Japan Business Unit in Noida. From 2006 till January 2009, Jayal worked with Goldman Sachs’ equity research department in Bangalore and its headquarters in New York, doing work similar to what she is involved with now.

So how did a student of language take to the world of finance? “Since Japanese language skills are rare, companies give on-the-job training to familiarise you with the field,” says Jayal.

What are the challenges and opportunities in language translation?

However, you should be clued in to the topic of the text/audio material. “They take help from dictionaries. There are well-developed field-wise dictionaries. (But) they have to have some idea of the subject,” elaborates Prof. Khanna.

Obviously, as Prof. Khanna says, this requires a lot of effort, but translation can open many doors. “One can branch out into interpretation for demonstrations at ikebana shows, origami workshops, cultural shows, theatre etc,” the professor says.

There is a shortage of qualified translators and interpreters for Japanese, Korean and Chinese, say JNU professors.

European languages have retained their advantage, too. “French has the highest demand,” says N Kamala, professor of French at JNU, “especially in the business process outsourcing sector. German and Spanish have a high demand as well.”

Experts predict a significant growth in the field of translation/ interpretation. Shaswati Mazumdar, professor of German at Delhi University, says, “(Translation) is a developing area, and it’s going to grow widely.”

Bangalore-based Sridhar Sampath, a founding member of the All India Translators’ Association, says, “Translation, not just in foreign languages but also in Indian languages, will grow in the next few years. There’s already a huge demand. The government is looking to get a lot of content translated into Indian languages.”

A translator converts a text or audio from the source language to the target language with equivalent meaning. The text can be anything from a novel to business correspondence.

Many translators work as interpreters, too. In India, most translators are absorbed in infotech. Other employers are car manufacturers, banks, airlines, hotels and chambers of commerce

Clock Work
A day of a translator working with an investment bank:
8.30 am: Start conference calls
9 am: Start translating higher priority documents
10.30 am: Send updates to local and global teams
1 pm: Lunch
1.30 pm: Outsource work
3 pm: Prepare daily report
4.30 pm: Internal meeting
6.30 pm: Leave for home

The Payoff
A fresh graduate in French/German makes Rs 25,000-Rs 30,000 a month in a top firm. A translator for the National Institute of Science Communication and Information gets 80 per cent of the per page fee for any language. A top interpreter can make Rs 8-10 lakh a year

Flair for languages — reading, writing, speaking
. A keen ear for diction
. Eye for detail and accuracy
. Strong ethics as you could be dealing with sensitive documents
. Presence of mind, especially when interpreting

How do i get there?
There are different routes for learning a foreign language. You can take the language as a subject in school, if that is an option. Or, join one of the known institutes. e.g. Alliance Francaise or Max Mueller Bhavan. You could also do a part-time/full-time certificate course available at different universities and then move up to advanced level qualifications. Or, after Class XII, apply for a Bachelor’s in your chosen language and follow it up with a Master’s. JNU professor Anita Khanna suggests that a translator/interpreter should have at least a Master’s level qualification

Institutes & urls
Jawaharlal Nehru University
. University of Delhi
. English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad
. Alliance Française
. Max Mueller Bhavan
. Instituto Cervantes
. Instituto Camões —Portuguese Cultural Centre
. Russian Centre
. Istituto Italiano di Cultura di New Delhi

Pros & Cons
. You get to travel, learn about other cultures
. You can work part-time or freelance at flexi-hours
. Translation is a sedentary, solitary exercise
. Freelancing pays only with a steady flow of assignments
‘When studying abroad, try to learn a language’

An interview with Ashok K Chawla, the Prime Minister’s official interpreter for the Japanese language; head, translation, CSIR’s National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (NISCAIR) and secretary, Indian Scientific Translators’ Association.

What all do you do?
The National Institute of Science Communication and Information (NISCAIR) was set up for library, documentation and translation. (The National Science Library is on the same premises.) Then our translation work was initiated by a UN proposal. We started the facility to help Indian scientists. Now, for a fee, we translate scientific material for anybody in the world.

We do translation work in 18 languages, including Japanese, Chinese, French, Russian, German and Spanish. We intend to offer services for Arabic and Korean as well. These two have been approved for inclusion, but we are yet to fill the posts.

Initially, we dealt with hardcore science. But now it can be science and related areas, including an economics paper. We do state-of-the-art reports, strategic documents, and reports for bodies like the Indian Space Research Organisation and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.

We certify translation in a limited number of languages. We receive de-registration certificates for vehicles, marksheets and birth certificates, too.

How many panel translators do you have?
About 40 years ago, we had about 35 resident translators. The ranks have depleted to two full-time, in-house people (a Russian language expert and I). Now we rely more on panel translators. We have six vacancies for Chinese, German, French, Russian, Korean and Arabic. The authorities want one in-house person (for a language) for quality control.

We have about 150 active translators across the country for all the covered languages. Empanelment is through a translation test.

We are emphasising more on manpower building to ensure quality and ethical conduct. This year, we started a free, on-going translation training programme for Japanese, French and Russian. We’ll gradually add other languages.

Eight people are enrolled and those who complete the training become our panel translators.

Who are your customers?
Ranbaxy, Shriram Laboratory, Mitsubishi, Honda, Usha, Tata Motors, Tata Steels, Mahindra & Mahindra, embassies, Japan External Trade Organisation, Institute for Plasma Research, Defence Research & Development Organisation, HCL, TVS, TERI, Agmark, Confederation of Indian Industry, FICCI etc.

Do you prefer people with a science background?
We prefer it but don’t insist on it. The number of seats for language courses in universities is limited. I don’t say it should be doubled but a moderate increase is required. We are entering the WTO regime, so the knowledge of languages becomes very important.

My advice to students is to learn a language as a second option if they are going abroad to study.

(Interviewed by Rahat Bano)