Japan Times: “In Japan, the most important rule for language translation is often broken”

Amy Chavez for the Japan Times:

The first rule of translation is to always translate into your native tongue. For example, just because I speak Japanese as a second language does not mean I can translate into Japanese successfully. I should only translate Japanese into my mother language, which is English.

Thus, native Japanese speakers should translate from English (their second language) into Japanese (their first), not the other way around. The only exception is bilinguals — those who have two mother tongues, having grown up speaking both Japanese and English with native proficiency.

I was once lucky enough to tour the United Nations Office in Geneva, and my tour guide said exactly the same thing. Bilingual people are bred, not learned. Even UN interpreters are paid to only translate into their stronger language.