Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Domo Arigato, Mr. Interpreter

Great article in today's USA Today on baseball's interpreters, which opens up with a vignette on Hiroki Kuroda and Kenji Nimura:

LOS ANGELES — Hiroki Kuroda strode into the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse during his first American spring training and, wearing a white jumpsuit, fake sideburns and chest hair, belted out a rendition of Elvis Presley's Love Me Tender.

Teammates — Americans, Dominicans, Japanese, Taiwanese, South Koreans, even one from Curacao— roared their approval.

It was one of the few moments of the Japanese pitcher's first year in the major leagues Kenji Nimura wasn't needed. The 2008 performance, part of a rookie ritual called Dodger Idol, transcended language — a barrier still far from conquered for Kuroda.

That's where Nimura comes in. He's the Dodgers' interpreter, part of a growing group of usually outsiders thrust into major league clubhouses to bridge the gaps between Asian players and teammates, coaches and news media. [...]

And the relationships often stretch far beyond ballparks. An interpreter's job can be consuming, from taking phone calls from a confused player in a grocery store aisle to helping a player's wife get a driver's license.

"It's one thing to be bilingual," says Nimura, who is unique in the major leagues and especially valuable because he's fluent in English, Japanese and Spanish. "It's another to be bicultural."

That's why the role has grown as quickly as the Asian influence in the majors, where this year's 12 Japanese players, three Taiwanese and two South Koreans usually are accompanied by an interpreter.

And note that the correct word is interpreter, not translator. Word-for-word substitutions seldom work between English and the Asian languages.

"If I give a direct translation, it will sound vague," says Nimura, born in Japan but raised in Los Angeles. "I cheat a little. It's like a scene in Lost in Translation. As long as I get the meaning right."

Ever wonder why the translated answer often seems much shorter than the original answer?

"American players follow the formula," Nimura says. "Say what you're going to say, say it, say what you said. In Japan, they don't give you an answer until the end."

Nimura and the others try to cut right to the meaning. That's why the bond is so crucial between player and interpreter. [...]

Nimura says his college studies inadvertently prepared him for life in baseball.

"I was an anthropologist," he says of his course work at San Jose State. "I was so surprised to apply my major's work in a major league clubhouse. ... It's like going into another culture."

Keep up the good work, Kenji. We'd love to keep you, and Hiroki, around for a long time.

photo: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today


Betsy said...

Thanks Sax! Love the article and the reference to the difference between interpreter and translator. My two loves-Baseball and my industry, only way today could be more perfect would be if the dodgers won :)

Josh S. said...

Kenji seems like one of the coolest dudes in baseball.

Anonymous said...

Dodgers need to add another Japanese player to keep Kuroda. Bring back Saito!!!