Teaching Americans To Translate Jap Language Poses Tough War Task
Shortage of translators and interpreters of Japanese, plus the great difficulty in teaching and learning that language in a short time, have coupled to provoke one of the nation’s difficult war problems, according to Joseph K. Yamagiwa, instructor in Japanese on the University campus.
This country has been caught short in work that, should have been begun five years ago, Mr. Yamagiwa, an American citizen born of Japanese parents in this country, declared. He said that he is one of five persons in the nation teaching Japanese and that there are no others available.
The picture Mr. Yamagiwa painted was far from rosy despite the fact that 135 students applied for admission to his intensified class begun here this semester. These, he said, had to be narrowed down to 40 who are now taking between 12 and 18 semester credit hours in the language in the hope that they can become translators and of some use to the government within eight months or a year.
Gives No Illusions
Mr. Yamagiwa presented no illusions intended to give the impression that translators and interpreters of Japanese can be turned out by factory production methods. He said that in eight months good students, such as the Phi Beta Kappa and other honor students who comprise his class, speak and understand the simple sentences, "How do you do?” and “It is a pleasant day."
Between five and 10 years later the same students may be able to glean a reading knowledge of the tongue and listen to a radio broadcast in Japanese with considerable intelligence, Mr. Yamagiwa estimated. He added that to become '‘well-versed’' in the 15,000 characters and many phonetic sounds of the language would require half a lifetime.
One Of Five
This University is one of five which intensified Japanese courses being conducted. The other universities in which some students literally eat, drink and sleep Japanese are Harvard, Columbia, Washington, and California. Yale University offers a course in spoken Japanese but not with the degree of concentration. Here the 35 men and five women who are studying the language either take no other courses or courses related to other phases of Far Eastern problems.
There is no satisfactory answer to the problem of training more translators and interpreters, schoolmen agree. The present program may make available 200 as the combined total of all five universities, but the government needs thousands. Mr. Yamagiwa said the only solution, which he opposes in principle but may concede to through necessity, is to enlarge courses and pass much of the drill work into the hands of assistants.
The technique of teaching Japanese here, which Mr. Yamagiwa called "direct but controlled," requires translation of Japanese word sounds into English letters and then associating them with Japanese characters and phonetics. Before a student can begin to read Japanese he must have learned a minimum of 1,800 characters, as compared to the 26 letters of the English alphabet.
Another difficulty which presents itself in teaching Japanese is the lack of Japanese-English dictionaries and up-to-date Japanese textbooks. Mr. Yamagiwa has found it necessary to edit his own syllabus in the absence of a suitable text. He also has adopted a recording system with which he intends to record Japanese pronunciation of all his students from week to week.