What is Community Interpreting and Why Does it Matter?

The dentist talked for a long time, in Japanese I didn't understand, pointing and waving his hands at the X-ray on the wall. I was completely lost.

After he'd talked for about five minutes, my Japanese boss translated for me: "He says you need to fix this tooth."

That's it? I thought. The dentist had been talking for ages. He can't possibly have only said "you need to fix this tooth".

The first year I was in Japan I had a lot of dental work done.

I broke a tooth (ouch!) and then it kept breaking. It was unpleasant.

I'm very grateful that my Japanese boss came to these appointments with me. And when he couldn't come, his mum would come with me. It was really kind of them.

But I usually didn't really understand what was going on. Imagine if I'd had access to a professional interpreter instead?

I often have interpreting on the brain. My "other job" (i.e. what I do when I don't have my Step Up Japanese hat on) is working in the offices of a community interpreting service here in Brighton.

So what is Community Interpreting?

Interpreting is listening to what is said in one language, and communicating the meaning in another language. And Community Interpreting (as opposed to conference interpreting, or interpreting in business meetings etc) basically exists to enable people to access public services.

Community Interpreters attend medical, legal and housing appointments with people who have limited English, helping them to understand fully what's going on.

Using a professional interpreter guarantees that interpreting is accurate and unbiased.

The interpreter's job is to remain impartial in a three-way conversation between the person with the language need (in Japan, that was me), and the professional they're seeing (the dentist).

Ah yes, my Japanese dentist.

After a while I could understand enough to attend the appointments by myself. Sometimes, I could tell the dentist was using simple language, to ensure I understood. That was kind of him.

But some medical messages are too important to be said in simple language.

So how would my experiences in Japan have been different if I'd had access to a professional interpreter?

It would have been empowering to make decisions about my medical care, without having to ask my boss's mum. I'm sure I would have felt a little less scared of the dentist waving his hands around, too.

If you'd like to learn more about Community Interpreting from a global perspective, you should check out Madeline Vadkerty's talk "Making the World a Better Place As an Interpreter" at next week's Women in Language event.

I'm really looking forward to hearing Madeline speak about her experiences as a Community Interpreter, helping asylum seekers and survivors of torture to rebuild their lives.

(I'll be speaking too - eek!)

Your ticket for Women in Language gets you access to the entire 4-day event with over 25 awesome women speaking. Click here to get your ticket before the event begins on Thursday 8th March.

A Trip to Japanese Vegetable Farm Namayasai, or, Why I Had a Shungiku Omelette for Breakfast this Morning

Did you know there's a dedicated Japanese vegetable farm right here in Sussex?

I spent last Saturday with the Brighton Japan Club at Namayasai, near Lewes. Namayasai a Japanese vegetable farm owned by Robin and Ikuko, from Devon and Japan respectively.

Namayasai is a Natural Agriculture farm - a specific type of organic farming that uses no pesticides / herbicides / artificial fertilisers.

Robin started by giving us a tour of the farm, showing us their rainwater collection system, lots and lots of interesting plants, and compost toilet (I resisted the temptation to take a picture of the compost toilet).

We had a go at eating nettles, identified a nashi pear plant from its buds, spotted some daikon (sadly a bit frosted on top - the non-frosted ones were protected under a sheet so no photos of them):

...and even found some rhubarb!

As well as outdoor crops, the farm has a huge greenhouse filled with Japanese herbs and leafy vegetables.

Tour over, we had a quick stop for cake, and then it was time to do some actual work!

We mixed the compost and Robin told us we were going to plant 113 trays of seeds. That sounded like quite a lot to me, but he seemed confident we would get it all done.

Robin showed us how to plant the seeds with chopsticks (well it is a Japanese farm...)

We planted mitsuba (also known as "Japanese parsley" but more like shiso), shungiku (edible chrysanthemum) and daikon, amongst other things. The daikon seeds were bright orange, which was cool / surprising.

I can't remember what these guys were planting but it looked significantly more fiddly than what I was doing:

When we'd finished planting (yep, all 100-and-something trays), Robin sent us home with bags and bags of vegetables.

I spent the next four days eating massive amounts of green veg, which made me extremely happy.

It was a lot of fun - massive thanks to Robin for having us, and Tom at the Brighton Japan Club for organising!

As well as locally, Namayasai supplies lots of famous Japanese restaurants in London, and Robin and Ikuko also run a vegetable box scheme with collection points around Sussex which I now have my eye on.

They have lots of info about the veg box, the farm itself and work/volunteer opportunities on their website - please do check it out!

Three Awesome Reasons to Take an Evening Language Class

There are pros and cons to all methods of learning a language. And when it comes down to it, many people prefer group classes to exclusive self-study or private lessons. But why?

1) Meet other language learners

Classes give you a teacher, but they provide you with an instant group of other people with the same interest as you. You can speak in your target language together, go out for dinner and order in Japanese, and message each other asking "what was last week's homework again?"

(Just kidding - thanks to the course outline I'll provide you with, you'll always know what this week's homework is.)

In a group class, students can support and help each other. It's obvious to me that my lovely students gain a lot from each others' support!

2) Keep a regular schedule

To gain any skill, you need to practice regularly. The great thing about having class on a regular day is it forces you to practice. Unlike exclusive self-study where you'll always have an excuse to procrastinate, weekly classes require you to be prepared for every class so you can get the most out of it.

Practice makes perfect, after all.

3) It's your class

You might feel like the only way to get a class tailored to your needs is to take private lessons. But a good group class - especially one for a small group of students - should be tailored to the students in it as much as a private lesson would be.

That's why I ask my students to give me regular feedback (informally, and through snazzy questionnaires) about how class is going and where you want it to go next. It's your class, and we'll focus on what you want to focus on.

That doesn't mean I'm going to do the hard work for you. If you want to get good at Japanese, you'll need to find ways of practicing and exposing yourself to the language as much as possible outside of class too. But a group class can provide the basis of your knowledge, a structure to work with, and (I hope) a friendly face to answer your questions.

It also gives you a great excuse to go to that great noodle place again...you are learning Japanese after all.

Enrolment is open for 10-week and 30-week courses in Japanese for Beginners (and Not-So-Beginners), starting September 2016. Click here to find out more!