Quick! How do you say…?
Translation can make your head spin, especially when pairing two languages like English and Japanese that are from completely separate linguistic families. However, just because it takes effort doesn’t mean the art of translation can’t be fun! Podcasts are a fantastic resource for language learning, accessible to anyone with a device connected to the internet, and can be utilized to improve translation skills as well—not to mention that they’re generally low-cost, if not completely free to listen to. Here are three recommended podcasts that can help you level up your translation skills and enjoy yourself in the process.
(Note that “translation” generally refers to written work, while “interpretation” refers to spoken work. In this piece, “translation” will be used to refer to both.)
Muggles’ Giggles ハリーポッターと翻訳の魔法 (Harry Potter to Hon’yaku no Maho)
Fans of the wonderful world of Hogwarts, rejoice! In this podcast, the two Muggle (non-wizard) hosts, Kari and Kanna, who grew up in bilingual English and Japanese environments, flit seamlessly between both languages as they compare and discuss Yuko Matsuoka’s Japanese translation of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s [Sorcerer’s] Stone with the original chapter by chapter. The Harry Potter series is well-known as a break-in text for intermediate or higher-level language learners, as it features colorful yet relatively simple literary language geared towards children and adults alike. Kari and Kanna are extremely engaging, and despite the relatively long length of each episode (generally one-and-a-half to two hours), it’s never tiring listening to them fawn over their favorite, expertly-translated passages, analyze the accuracy of nuances, and suggest alternative wordings in such a way that only natives in both languages can break down with such ease.
This podcast is fantastic to learn the how’s and why’s of 意訳 (iyaku, or more liberal translations to convey the intended meaning) and 直訳 (chokuyaku, or literal translations). The hosts speak primarily in Japanese, although they switch into English conversation at times.
At the date of writing, they have covered each chapter until Chapter 16: “Through the Trap Door.”
Note that there are frequent spoilers in reference to events happening in later chapters or books in the series, so it may be best if you are already familiar with the series.
バイリンガルニュース (Bilingual News)
Likely the most well-known of this list is the news podcast hosted by Michael and Mami, a pair of good friends in Tokyo who are bilingual in English and Japanese. Established in 2013, this is often the go-to program for translation students to practice shadowing and other translation and interpretation techniques. The hosts take turns presenting recent news articles, spending half the time presenting first in Japanese with the English translation following after, and then switching language order at the halfway mark. After presenting the news, they discuss and comment on it, with Michael tending to speak in English and Mami in Japanese. Because of this, there is a great balance between formal and colloquial language. The hosts hunt down fascinating topics that are not always headline news, so they keep it engaging with often lesser-known material, with virtually nothing off-limits. They also sometimes invite other multilinguals as guests on the show to give fresh perspectives and share their expertise.
New content is posted every week, and you can access transcripts of the conversations in full on their website for a small fee. Early episodes clock in at around 30 minutes, while more recent episodes tend to be close to one-and-a-half to two hours; if a special guest is present, it can reach as long as three hours per episode. Different from “Muggles Giggles,” the content is quite linguistically balanced but generally has relatively more English than Japanese in the free conversation segments.
Recent topics include the beds at the Tokyo Olympics, artificial rain, issues with Amazon’s Alexa, and fictitious civilizations.
Note that since episodes are not censored and unedited, they may feature some explicit language and material not suitable for all listeners.
解説！１日５分ビジネス英語 (Kaisetsu! Ichinichi Gofun Bijinesu Eigo)
This podcast is meant to teach Japanese people some higher-level English, but with a reverse-engineering mindset, it’s also a great resource for learners of Japanese or translation to use to practice converting English into Japanese. Despite the name, each episode is roughly 15 minutes long, but new episodes are released multiple times a week. Therefore, it’s still a great choice for those who prefer a shorter podcast than the lengthy ones mentioned above. Despite its name, however, it’s not limited to the formal language used in the workplace; rather, it takes a news story from something happening in the world, ranging from economics to public policy and migration, although quite often with a focus on some aspect of business, such as interesting marketing campaigns or unique tax policies.
In each episode, a dramatic, movie-trailer voice reads a segment of each news piece in English first, and the Japanese host Matt Takeuchi’s therapeutic breaks down each segment in Japanese (with a chipmunk-like third voice intermittently chiming to comment and ask questions about the material). This is a fantastic resource to practice your short-term memory with fast-paced English to Japanese interpretation, as you can try your hand at it first and then immediately compare your translations with Matt’s. After the analysis, the English text is read again in full, so you can hammer in your practice by trying to interpret the material altogether a second time without the host’s guidance.
Recent topics include Rihanna’s wealth, expensive French fries in New York, homelessness made illegal in Los Angeles, and Stonehenge losing its World Heritage status.
Navigating translation between English and Japanese can be like cutting vines away through a dense forest to produce a clear path, and creating a result as smooth and meaningful as the original is truly a skill honed from hard work and practice. By consistently practicing efficiently, your translation skills over time will grow exponentially. I personally recommend the above three, and these are just a sampling of great podcasts to choose from. There are also many more out there waiting to be discovered, so if you have a different favorite, let us know by leaving a comment down below!