Japanese service members enhance English skills with Marines
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- The seminar is held annually by the station Public Affairs Office to help improve upon the JGSDF’s understanding and use of the English language prior to their deployment in support of exercises in both the United States and Japan.
“I believe this seminar is very important because these days I’ve seen an increase in media coverage of the Japan Self-Defense Force working together with Marines,” said Hiromi Kawamoto-san, community relations specialist with PAO. “A real-world example would be exercise Iron Fist out of San Diego, Calif., where JGSDF are trying to grasp the concept of the Marine Corps amphibious landing assault capabilities. This is just one way JGSDF are increasing their interoperability with the U.S. Marine Corps and their language skills are the foundation to build such a partnership.”
Trainees took their English instructors off base to the Kintai area to provide a historical tour while enhancing their language abilities. This helped the JGSDF to better interpret between the languages. The challenge was to find a direct, or best, translation for the various subjects.
“Some things have two meanings, so you have to make sure you’re clearly getting your message across to avoid any confusion that could hinder the mission at hand,” said Gunnery Sgt. Scott Brenner, airframes division chief with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314. “It was my first tour given to me by the Japanese Defense Force. Knowing is doing, so they practiced what they intend to do while imbedded with various Marine Corps units.”
JGSDF 1st Lt. Masahiro Yamasaki, maintenance officer with the 13th Aviation Unit, 13th Brigade, said the Japanese don’t fully understand English translation. But it’s his job to make it easier for units and commanders. He attributes this seminar to helping him understand English on a deeper level by actually working with Marines.
“I experienced speaking English with Marines for the first time, and it was very meaningful to me,” said Yamasaki. “I sometimes do joint training with U.S. forces, so I have to translate between both forces’ coordinators. Marines are kind, but tough, so am I looking forward to continue training with them.”
U.S. service members use abbreviations and military terms such as hatch, which means a door, and head, which refers to a restroom. Kawamoto-san said these are the types of translations the soldiers need to be familiarized with because those words are not in their English textbooks, but they will face them during their bilateral conversation with U.S. service members.
“Because I’m Japanese, I know what the students wanted – an abundance of English translation,” said Kawamoto-san. “You can build an English vocabulary on your own, read texts books, or memorize all the words. Although, listening to natural conversation and the speed that the Marines speak gives them a better understanding because they have no idea how their next interpretation will be.”
Many conversations took place, most of which did not have a transcript. This forced the interpreters to gather their thoughts and find the most appropriate way to translate the messages correctly. Kawamoto-san, having more than 10 years of experience translating for both internal and external media entities for the air station, said building an understanding of not only the language but the culture of U.S. forces is just as important to provide a more accurate translation.
“Marines use ‘Ooh-rah’ on a daily basis,” said Kawamoto-san. “Ooh-rah can be interpreted in many ways such as: good morning, good bye, I’m glad to see you, I have high motivation, or I appreciated your hard work. Ooh-rah can be interpreted in many ways, meaning it can be translated in many ways too. Getting this kind of understanding only comes from cultural exchanges like this and learning first hand.”
At the end of the seminar, trainees commended the Marines in their language assistance and made recommendations for next year’s course. But learning occurred for both services and valuable life skills were built as a team, according to Brenner.
“This is a good dress rehearsal because their interpreters won’t be with them come game-day, and they’ll be relying on themselves to do it,” said Brenner. “With practice and getting a little further away from the barn, they’ll get good at it. I really enjoyed my time with the crew, and I hope to do it again”