After graduating in May 2018, I came to Japan on the JET Program to work. More than 90% of applicants come to Japan as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). There rest of the applicants come as a CIR (Coordinator of International Relations). I have been here since August 2018 and have been working as a CIR.
People usually ask me what it is that CIRs do. This is usually a hard question to answer because we do a variety of things. The things a CIR does can range from working for a city hall to teaching. I know people who work in tourist areas, art museums, schools, the list goes on. I myself work in a city hall. To be more specific, I work in the Cultural and International Division in Maebashi City, the capital of Gunma Prefecture. My job usually entails translation and interpreting. I usually translate things that we get from our sister cities. I also translate things for the art museum and sometimes pamphlets for the city to name a few other things.
I recall learning in one of my classes at UT that you normally should only translate into your native language. However, my job often requires that I translate into Japanese as well. My supervisor normally checks my Japanese translations and corrects them if need be. Admittedly, I was very nervous at first when it came to translating into Japanese, but after having been here for a little over half a year I’m more confident in my ability.
I don’t often have to interpret for big events. Most of the interpreting I do comes in the form of helping the foreign residents who live here. When people come to the city hall and don’t understand Japanese, I go to help them with whatever it is they need. A stipulation to that is, as I work in the city hall, any help, be it interpretation or translation, has to be done within the city. That is to say that if what they need help with has nothing to do with the city hall, I am not allowed to help them.
Aside from translation and interpretation work, I help with local International events. Last October (2018), I coordinated foreigner participation in a local festival. We danced during the festival along with local Japanese people. I was in charge of asking people to sign up and making sure information was relayed to them. Another I do at these events is act as an MC. The most recent event I worked at was a cooking class conducted in English. A mix of foreigners (all ALTs) and local Japanese people came together to cook food from America and enjoy each other’s company as they ate.
There are times when I get to go on business trips to other prefectures. So far, I’ve been on two trips. The first trip was the Mid-Year Conference held in Chiba Prefecture. This conference was for all first through third year CIRs. We spent three days there, and went to lectures by previous CIRs and volunteers from different organizations, as well as professional interpreters. The other business trip was part of a translation and interpretation course I took that was aimed at JET participants whose jobs require skills in both. This took place in Shiga Prefecture. The classes were taught by professional interpreters. My predecessor would have to travel to other countries sometimes to interpret, so there’s a chance that I will have to as well.
I also write a bimonthly newsletter for the foreigners living in Japan. In the newsletter I write about cultural information about both America and Japan. I also give them food recommendations and I usually try to leave an encouraging messages for them. Originally, I was only going to write the newsletter in English, but my supervisor thought it would be a good idea to write it in Japanese as well, so I write it in both languages. In the future, I will be giving a presentation about Texas so that the local citizens can learn more about America. As you can see, there are a lot of aspects to my job. As the years go on I may have more to do and I look forward to it.
Of course, my time here isn’t just completely focused on work. In my free time, I attend events organized by the local JET community. We do things such as hiking, river rafting, skiing, and so on. As a result, I get to travel to a lot of places in the prefecture. I also travel outside the prefecture, normally to Tokyo since it is very close to Gunma and doesn’t cost that much to get to. There are also a lot of company parties that I go to and it’s been a really good way to get to know my coworkers.
I’m sure you probably gathered that in order to do all of this I would need a strong command of the language. I was asked to give you some advice on how I got to the level I’m at now, so here it goes:
1. I first started studying Japanese in the Spring Semester of 2014. I spent a lot of time doing the homework and studying, much like a normal student would. I really love learning other languages, and Japanese was no exception. So, my first piece of advice is to make sure you truly enjoy studying this language. The more you like something, the more likely it is that you will remember it.
2. In the beginning, I had a lot of things I was really curious about so I spent a lot of time going to office hours even though I didn’t need the help. I talked with the professor (Aida Sensei) a lot. This is to say that you also have to approach learning Japanese, or any language for that matter, with a strong sense of curiosity.
3. Do not be afraid to ask questions! I know everyone has a fear of sounding dumb, but if you don’t understand something, please ask for help. You can ask the sensei for help, or you can ask your classmates. In my case, if I needed to understand something, I went to office hours. If you can’t make office hours, send the sensei an email. If you’re still not too sure, then use google. There are so many resources that can help you understand a grammar point better.
4. The main reason why we speak our native languages so well is because we have thousands upon thousands of hours of contact with it. We’ve been interacting with it since we were born. So it makes sense to think that you would also need as much contact with a language you’re studying. That is why I recommend studying abroad. I studied abroad in Iwate for one year from 2015 to 2016. Before going to Iwate, I was fine on paper, but I had a very hard time speaking. Being in Japan gave me the chance to speak, read, and listen to Japanese. I chose Iwate specifically because it was in a place with little to no English speakers. This forced me to have to use the language everyday. This is not to say that you couldn’t accomplish the same thing studying abroad in Tokyo, but there are a lot of people who speak English there so it is easier to get by without speaking Japanese if you go there.
5. If you don’t have the time to study abroad, then you’ll have to get your input hours in another way. Music, anime, reality tv, reading manga in Japanese, these are all ways of getting input. I focused a lot on music. I’m a big fan of Asian Kung-Fu Generation, so I looked up their song lyrics (in Japanese) and use them to learn new vocabulary and new kanji. I still do this now. I would recommend trying to sing Japanese songs as well because then you’ll be forming the words and developing muscle memory so that when you speak you won’t mess up on pronouncing the words. Another thing you can do is if you watch anime, or Japanese reality tv, try repeating their words after them and get used to how they say the word. Normally Japanese reality tv is better for this because they speak like normal people and it is important to hear words pronounced as naturally as possible.
6. Next piece of advice comes from one of my friends who was also apart of the Japanese program at UT. He would try to think in Japanese often as a way of getting used to forming sentences. You know how when we are alone, we sometimes talk to ourselves? Well, he would do that but in Japanese so that he could get used to actually speaking it. It is my understanding that doing this will help you know which words you do and do not know so it is a good way to increase your vocabulary as it can be assumed that these will be words you will use in everyday life. He has never been to Japan, but he has a great command of the language so I would say that this is actually a very effective method of practice.
7. One thing to keep in mind when speaking is that you should try to avoid translating a sentence in your head when you are speaking. When I speak, I don’t translate the sentence first, I’ve gotten to the point where it just comes out. You should think of the Japanese word first when attempting to speak. Of course when you first start learning, it isn’t realistic that you would be able to do this. It does take time. In order to get to this point it is important that you get a good grasp of grammar, and increase your vocabulary. It is slow at the beginning, but the more you learn the closer the language moves to the area of your brain where your native language is stored, and then it will come naturally to you. It may seem impossible at first, but trust me it is achievable.
8. The only way to get better at speaking is to speak! This can be said about any skill. The more you draw, the better you get. The more you write, the better you get. The more you practice the better you get. So just speak every chance you get.
9. When speaking a foreign language, confidence is incredibly important. When I studied abroad, it took me awhile to be able to speak because I lacked confidence, but participating in the classes (which were instructed in Japanese) really helped a lot. Going to nomihoudai (all you can drink) events with the Japanese students was also a good boost to my confidence in speaking. I soon realized that I was able to say a lot more than I had originally thought. You actually know more than you think you do. Trust me, if you are putting the work, studying diligently, and participating in class, you will know the words. It does sound cliche, but it is really important that you believe in yourself. I would say that this is the secret to my success with the language.
If you want to contact me, you can reach me at jalencox72アットyahoo.com (replace アット with @)
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