Demand For Japanese Interpreters in the Community

By Minako MiyataPicture-MinakoMiyata1
Accredited Court Interpreter

We have a problem with regards to the shortage of Japanese interpreters currently in Toronto. A Japanese patient was not provided with a Japanese interpreter in hospital recently even though she had requested one prior to her appointment date. Also I have heard that professional interpreters, whose first language is not Japanese, have been sent to sites to perform as Japanese interpreters just because they speak Japanese. Since they do not speak it daily, they had translation issues that defeated the whole idea of assistance.

This problem has been around for a while due to the shortage of qualified interpreters. In English speaking countries such as Canada, the interest in becoming an interpreter may be low, as incomes are usually unstable when one chooses such profession. There are many other opportunities where one can utilize one’s English skills at work, whereas in Japan, one often wants to become an interpreter just to take advantage of one’s English skills.

There are some types of language interpretation that require specialization, however it is in the area of Community Interpretation that we have a shortage. Some agencies share their list of Japanese Community Interpreters names now. Community interpreters assist people whose first language is not English to enable them to access services where, due to language barrier, they would otherwise find it difficult to access. In Ontario, this interpreting service is commonly needed in situations such as divorce, relationship counselling, parenting, education, medical and police matters (Note 1).

In Ontario, we have a “standardized accreditation system for Community Interpreters (i.e., training programs, exam, code of ethics)” (Note 2) and many education institutes offer Language Interpreter Training Programs. However one has to be careful in choosing one because we have introduced a new standardized accreditation system this year ( One applies to agencies for freelance interpreter positions after one has passed a language proficiency exam.

The number of assignments to be done depends totally upon one’s language in demand and experience. One will get more offers if one can drive, is flexible with working hours and gets request from particular clients. It is also important to make applications at as many agencies as possible. I would like to encourage interested persons to attend the annual job fair for Community Interpreters. There are many booths from various agencies at the fair. Individuals interested in working as medical interpreters are encouraged to directly contact the organizations and hospitals that hire freelance interpreters. Ask the instructors for their contact information while attending the programs. It is important to be active in sending out resumes.

On the other hand, I have heard a rumour that there is no work for Japanese interpreters. I think it is only French interpreters who can find full-time positions because it is an official language of Canada. Most interpreters of other languages are freelancers. With government accreditation, interpreters are trying to find a way of stabilizing their part-time positions to a point where the work is more stable and the income is fair. At present, interpretation is not a profession for those who want stable income on a monthly basis. One of the advantages of working as a freelancer is that one can have a flexible schedule. The services can be delivered in multiple modalities such as telephone and video due to the advancement of technology. Furthermore, there is no retirement age for this profession.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to ask those who receive interpretation services at various places that if one becomes insecure about one’s interpreters’ skills and capabilities (e.g., such as when one has hard time understanding their translation, etc.), please inform the service provider immediately. Interpreters are hired so that everything spoken is understood clearly, therefore one does not need to be patient. One has to raise his or her voice in order to ensure that qualified and capable interpreters are hired to do the best job possible. Unless one takes action, nothing would change.

Note: I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Mr. Andrew MIGITA-MEEHAN, AIIC in Tokyo for devoting his precious time to being interviewed for this article. Also I would like to mention that some phrases (Notes 1 & 2) are quotations taken from “Tsuyaku no yakuwari” (Masaaki Takahashi, 2009).