Babel University Professional School of Translation
Are you familiar with the term “academic debate”? During Babel’s history spanning over almost half a century, for roughly a decade in the 1990’s BUPST would invite annually a debate champion and coach (instructor) from the US and supported a Japan-wide academic event. Participants would debate in Japanese and English, and Babel extolled the academic benefits of debating. At the time, Professor Shigeru Matsumoto (author of the book English Debating Manual published by Babel Press and Professor of International Management at Rikkyo University School of Management as well as a U.S. qualified debate coach), and the late professor Akiko Nakatsu (whose book Why do you speak English? received the Nonfiction Otoya Foundation Award) assisted in these events.
Academic debate is the idea of using debating techniques as a part of education in cultivating logical composition skills.
Another term – “academic translation” – targets adults who are in college and older and students in elementary through high school. Academic translation however is intended for developing professional translators.
To make the idea of academic translation easier to understand, let’s consider the following example.
About 25 years ago I took part in an experimental project at Babel. A team of seven to eight people comprised of Babel’s education manager Genya Nagasaki and second and third year junior high teachers also participated in this project. Professor Nagasaki was at the time a masterful English speaker whose Miracle English Series had successfully sold over a million copies. Without having ever left Japan, Professor Nagasaki had learned English so well he could engage in heated debates and arguments with native English speakers. In this project, second and third year junior high students were targeted in using the Ladder Series editions of English learning books – where the English vocabulary is limited to 500-100 words – to conduct translation exercises.
In these exercises, students were taught foundational techniques from syntax to pronunciation, and were expected to not simply interpret the English passages but also carefully research the background to translate into Japanese that was grammatically correct and easy to read. What was surprising was that after about a year of this training students’ English improved, and also their grades in language arts, social studies, math, and other subjects improved significantly. I wish we’d been able to continue with this project and collected more concrete data, but regrettably Babel became busy with other work and was unable to pursue the project further. Now, about 20 years later, I feel like the time has come to put into practice what Babel learned in this project.
In current English education, where the grammar translation method is rejected and communicative English education or so-called “conversational English” education is promoted, looking at those results I wonder if I’m the only one that feels like “educational translation” – which began before the Edo period – is needed today. This magazine has been running a series since May of last year by professor emeritus Hajime Narita from Osaka University titled English Education Using Comprehensive Translation, that does a great job of summing up the idea of educational translation.
Conversely, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) every three years, has been used since 2000 to measure 15-year-old students’, math, science, and reading literacy. Additionally, since 2015, this assessment also measures collaborative problem-solving skills and global competence. Incidentally, the Japanese moved from ranking at a little higher than 10th place to being at the top in the world in math and science literacy in 2015, and about the same at third place in reading comprehension. Reportedly, the Japanese still continue to be at the top in these three fields.
While there is some disagreement in defining the standards for global competence that was added to the PISA in 2015, currently the definition is as follows. “Global competence is the capacity to examine local, global and intercultural issues, to understand and appreciate the perspectives and world views of others, to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with people from different cultures.”
Namely, global competence is comprised of the three dimensions of knowledge, understanding, and attitude, and at the foundation is a focus on human dignity and cultural diversity.
This global competence can also be considered in a broad sense as the very heart of translation and educational translation.
I believe the spread of educational translation cultivates language education, understanding of foreign cultures, responding effectively to foreign cultures, and sensitivity, and it opens up new horizons for education of both students at all levels and adults as well. It also encourages a new awareness of Japan’s role in the world.
Let’s consider now the meaning translation possesses from a historical perspective.
Since the Meiji Restoration, many members of Japan’s Enlightenment movement such as Fukuzawa Yukichi, Nishi Amane, and Nakae Chomin brought in to Japan Western culture and cultural assets to modernize Japan by combining the Japanese spirit with Western learning. In other words, one could say these great thinkers used translation to import the Western advanced culture and civilizations of the time. That’s why Japan was commonly called a translation nation.
From the sixth to seventh century when Japan imported Chinese culture from Japan, it created translational equivalents of ideas from the Chinese culture by combining classical Japanese and the Chinese language. Beginning in the Meiji Restoration, Japan developed translational equivalents of abstract concepts previously nonexistent in Japan from the humanities and social sciences. Concepts such as society, justice, truth, reason, conscience, subjectivity, system, structure, dialectic, alienation, true existence, and crisis are all familiar terms imported into Japan through translation that the Japanese use without a second thought.
However, if you think about translation’s standing in society today, it’s curiously imperceptible. Of course, we read translations in our everyday lives and the government and corporations allot large portions of their budget to translation. We also live in an environment where we can freely enjoy classical literature from all over the world such as the works of Dostoyevsky, Thomas Mann, etc.
Looking at the future, the continued trend towards a borderless global society made possible with information technology means there’s an immeasurable amount of business volume for translation. Some say the typical corporation spends about three billion Japanese yen annually on outsourcing translation. Adding in translation for industries such as the government, books (including digital), cartoons, and comics, and the market for translation easily surpasses a trillion Japanese yen.
This means that it wasn’t just in the past but from now into the future that the role of translation in Japan’s business dealings, culture, and society will be much larger than imagined.
When considering the importance of translation at the national level, I realize the importance of the very act of translation even before that of training professional translators and am convinced once more of the importance of educational translation.
The absolute obsession with English and the boisterous calls in Japanese corporations for switching to English is taking the media by storm, which is exactly what globalists and international finance capitalists want. Such policies however will only lead to the decline of Japan to becoming a second-rate country.
Within the hierarchical structure of English control, there are countries such as India, Malaysia, Kenya, and other former British colonies that adopted English as their second official language, and then countries that were under the control of the U.S. such as the Philippines and Puerto Rico. These countries in a sense adopted English as their official language, and thus accepted becoming second-rate countries.
Recently Japan’s mass media has been reporting masochistically about how the University of Tokyo has fallen from its ranking up to last year of first place in the Asian region to seventh. The reason for this decline is supposedly that only a small percentage of courses are taught in English along with a small percentage of academic papers written in English.
However, think about this for a moment. Are there any other countries apart from Japan that are not English-speaking countries where people can learn advanced studies in their own language? What is more, Japan is a rare country where people can read classics from all over the world in Japanese – how many people are aware of this fact?
On the other hand, look at the current condition of the so-called “ideal” country Singapore. First, one has to constantly learn several languages, and there’s a growing economic disparity due to elitism and a lack of a feeling of solidarity among citizens. What’s more, Singapore is culturally impoverished since it doesn’t create its own culture or arts. This is the distortion created by adopting English as a country’s official language.
Japan has used translation as a shield, strictly adhering to the position that Japanese is its national language and not belittling it’s language by lowering it to being just a local language. Japan’s stance on this issue is perfectly natural given the following Japanese language and cultural history, and the according merits this language and culture support.
- In the sixth and seventh centuries Japanese assimilated ideas from Chinese civilization; in order to absorb these ideas, Japan used a blend of Japanese and Chinese, thus creating a culture of Chinese and Japanese characters.
- Japan is one of the richest languages in the world when it comes to vocabulary, having about 500,000 different words. English also is at about 500,000 words since it has many loaned words; German has 35,000, and French has 10,000 words. Japan is truly a country blessed with a miraculous power of language.
- One can read ancient Japanese works from over 1000 years ago without particular difficulty, such as Kojiki, Nihon Shoki (the older chronicles of Japan), and Manyoshu (an anthology of Japanese poetry). However, in the U.S. and England, people cannot read literature written over a 1000 years ago unless they can read ancient Greek and Hebrew.
- Among the 200 countries worldwide, over 6000 ethnic groups, and over 6,500 languages, only Japanese is neatly structured based on 50 vowels and has various forms of expression such as hiragana, katakana, the alphabet, Chinese numerals, and Roman numerals.
- As neuroscientist Tadanobu Tsunoda has pointed out, people from the West process consonants with the left brain, and vowels with the right brain which is also used to process machine sounds and noise. They also take in noises like birds chirping, a brook babbling, or the sound of the wind as noise with the right brain. The Japanese however take in consonants and vowels with their language centered left brain, along with the sounds of chirping birds, babbling brooks, and the wind. Perhaps this is why the Japanese see the divine in all things.
- Japanese culture has cultivated sharp sensitivity and deep spirituality by cultivating Confucianism, Buddha, Road, Zen and Shinto culture at the eastern end of the Eurasian Continent.
- As the author of Japanese Science Will Change the World Matsuyo Yoshiyuki points out, many Nobel prize level scientific inventions are thanks to the Japanese language. Japan has won approximately 20 Nobel prizes in the natural sciences, setting it apart from other Asian countries.
The following keyword comes to mind when thinking abstractly about why educational is needed today: multicultural symbiosis.
The next stage is the age of multicultural symbiosis; a society where people live together, recognizing each other’s cultural differences.
That’s the very essence of translation!
Put another way, the very act of translation is the integration of different cultures, which is set on the premise of multicultural symbiosis.
Among U.S. intellectuals that regard Samuel Phillips Huntington’s books The Clash of Civilizations as racist, one can begin to see the limits of the hegemonism different from that of China. The U.S. has always attempted to pursue the universal and erase differences. In contrast, England – with a history of creating colonies – has undergone hardships due to international politics, and thus understands from experience cultural difference and has tried to take measures to manage those issues.
It was possibly recognizing multiculturalism and also valuing its own culture, which is in a sense tolerance (or scheming) that led to England’s exit midway from the EU, or BREXIT.
What we at Babel Group can do isn’t at the political or economic level; it’s considering translation in national culture and social strategies.
This is because translation is a global appeasement policy based on multicultural symbiosis.
Finally, let’s look at what skills are needed in translation from the viewpoint of BUPST’s translation education.
- Language Competence
This competence is the naturally the language related skills that are the pillar to working in translation, and Babel uses “translation grammar” as the center for this competence. PISA states that reading comprehensions skills are closely related to mathematical and scientific literacy.
- Cultural Competence (Cross-cultural, Global Competence)
Cultural competence is thoroughly knowing cultures of concern, which is necessary when transferring information between different cultures and relatively viewing the values in those cultures. This coincides with cooperative problem-solving skills and skills for working with different cultures – or global competence – that PISA added in 2015. As a reference, global consultant Ikuko Atsumi (author of Developing Global Talent (English translation published by Babel)) groups the world into four areas based on cultural values.
1. Countries based on a moral code (human relations) – Asia including Japan, Eastern Europe, South America, Central Africa, etc.
2. Countries based on a legal code (rules and manuals) – the U.S., England, Northern European countries.
3. Countries based on a religious code (teachings of God) – the Middle East, Northern Africa, etc.
4. Countries based on a mixed code (combination of codes listed above) – India, etc.
Ikuko Atsumi also looked into the traditions and history of each country to create a Global Navigator that organizes countries based on
Motivators and Demotivators shows what countries hold as their cultures and values for taking action.
- Expert Competence
In translation, it’s necessary to have a field of specialty. That field of specialty is constantly evolving. Therefore, it’s necessary for translators to be able to gather information to be informed of those changes.
- IT Competence
Not only when translating, but also when leading translation projects, one needs IT competence – which is the project management knowledge, research skills, translation editing skills, desktop publishing skills, and skills for using translation assistance tools, skills for creating glossaries of terms –such knowledge and IT skills are essential to career development as a translator.
- Managerial Competence
Managerial competence encompasses management know-how for achieving professional independence, and project management knowledge and skills for working as a project manager in handling projects – all of which are essential for gaining independence as a professional translator.
Translation integrates all of the above competences and requires an extremely high degree of overall intellectual ability. While some of translation can be performed with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), the act of translation as an integrated whole is one that only humans can perform.
In the AI age, I believe that learning translation cultivates foundational skills similar to reading, writing, and arithmetic.
I also believe that if Japan’s elementary, middle, and high school education, along with universities and graduate schools use educational translation, Japan will ultimately find the path to independence.