「通訳・翻訳ブック×技術英語ジャーナル」特別コラボ企画Vol.1 翻訳者への道


科学技術分野の翻訳者として成功するために必要なものとは――? ベテラン翻訳者・天河航さんの記事を、サイマルのWebマガジン『通訳・翻訳ブック』と公益社団法人日本工業英語協会の情報誌『技術英語ジャーナル』にて特別公開!(※1)科学技術への興味から始まった技術翻訳者への道のり、技術翻訳者としての心構えなど、日本語訳とともにお送りします。(※2)

The Lifelong Road to Science and Technology Translation

When I was learning to read as a lad growing up in Michigan, the first book that caught my fancy was called Johnny’s Machines, about a farm boy who loved pushing buttons and operating gadgets. He was kept occupied by a growing array of increasingly complicated machines to tinker with. By the time I started school, I had read it many times over. When I was a bit older, my uncle, an engineer at an aircraft firm, introduced me to the world of electronics. I was soon building radios, audio gear, and a transmitter from which I broadcast music and talk programs to our neighborhood. It was only natural that I looked ahead to a science career. Excelling in mathematics and chemistry in high school, I entered university as a physics major.

Then something fateful happened. In university, I found the people studying liberal arts to be much more interesting than the rather boring science and math students. This was enough for me to switch over to an English major course, alongside a major in German. During and after university, I continued to study various languages, and eventually got around to learning Japanese.

I never lost my interest in gadgets, however. When the computer age arrived, I was quick to buy an early PC and learn programming. A long-time audiophile, I got my start as a translator in the field of audio equipment. Upon becoming a full-time translator, I initially worked on a range of topics from lightbulb manufacturing to semiconductors, then expanded into telecommunications and other large systems. Today much of my work is in industrial processes including metal fabrication, and in environmental technology.

The reality we face as technical translators is that science and technology are constantly changing. We can prepare ourselves with a basic understanding of mathematics and science, and how things work; but we also have to keep learning, to stay up to date with the state of the art. In the telecommunications field, for example, I became a specialist in a new switching technology, translating thousands of pages on it, only to have the technology go out of date, replaced by an entirely different approach. One way to cope with this diversity is to narrow your work to a few companies and become thoroughly familiar with their technologies, expanding your knowledge incrementally as new advances are made.

Before the internet, research on new technologies meant spending hours in bookstores and libraries. Today we have a vast amount of information just a few keystrokes away. All of us develop our own techniques for utilizing this vast store of information; but the better we become at this skill, the more effective we will be as translators.

Given the nature of the job, what do I suggest for those looking at a career in technical translation?

Start by taking a hard look at the qualities you bring to the task. Being comfortable with technology is of course a must, but by itself is not enough. Engineers and researchers are often poor at explaining their work to others. My fellow math and physics students in university, the ones who drove me away and into the liberal arts, no doubt went on to become good engineers, but not necessarily good science communicators.

People who are good at writing are likely to have been avid book readers all their lives. Translation, after all, is as much about good writing as it is about foreign language skills. Mastery of the target language is essential, but takes long years of practice to develop fully.

What about foreign language skills? Are they not the most important? While it may surprise many to hear this, language ability may actually be the least difficult to acquire of the necessary skills set. Today we live in a global society where we readily come into contact with people of different cultures. We also have a wealth of language-learning tools at our disposal. There was a time when Japanese mastery by foreigners was looked upon with awe; but today, the number of non-natives who are fluent in Japanese is much larger than it was even 20 or 30 years ago. Mastery of writing, on the other hand, is just as elusive today as it was half a century ago, if not more so.

Of the various skills necessary for success as a science and technology translator, then, I believe love of technology, love of language, and meticulous writing skills are all important; but perhaps the last is the most crucial of them all, and the hardest to come by. The role of good writing in technical translation, however, is not to entertain, not to obfuscate, but to clarify. Becoming a good writer, one who can convey the arcane matters of science and technology clearly, is like mastering a musical instrument. Above all else, this is the skill you must devote your life to acquiring.


ミシガン州育ちの子どもだった私が読むことを覚え始めたとき、最初に気に入った本が『ジョン君の大好きな機械(Johnny’s Machines)』だった。ボタンを押したり機械を操作したりするのが大好きな田舎の少年の物語だ。主人公のジョン君は物語の中で、次々と目の前に現れる、複雑さを増していく機械を夢中でいじっていた。私は学校へ上がるまでに、この本を何度も繰り返し読んだ。少し大きくなったころ、航空機会社のエンジニアをしていた伯父がエレクトロニクスの世界を教えてくれた。私はすぐさまラジオやオーディオ機器、送信機を組み立てて、音楽番組やトーク番組を隣近所に向けて放送した。科学の道へ進むことを見据えるようになったのは当然の流れと言える。高校で数学と化学が得意だった私は、物理学専攻で大学に入学した。










※1:こちらの記事は『技術英語ジャ―ナル No.02 VOL.40 June - 2020』に掲載されたものと同内容です。