21 Feb 2023

ITI Profile: Sayaka Matsunaga MITI

We talk to Sayaka Matsunaga, an interpreter with over 20 years of experience, about her route into the profession, why she loves her job and the range of clients she works with.
Sayaka Matsunaga.jpg

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

Born and raised in Japan, I took the bold, and some would say, brave move to make a new life and forge a career in the UK back in 1999. Arriving in the UK with only the bag on my back, I found some basic accommodation and then worked two part-time jobs in order to pay the bills and help support my higher education.

After much sacrifice and endeavour, I gained the opportunity to work for a leading Japanese car manufacturer as an in-house interpreter and translator where I spent the next 15 years honing my craft while travelling the world, meeting dignitaries, managing corporate meetings, and ensuring that communication at every level was clear, and most importantly, fully understood on a cultural, business, and personal level. Now with over 20 years’ experience, it’s quite incredible how far I feel I have come since taking that leap into the unknown but it is also equally exciting to see what the next chapter of my career holds.

What made you consider the profession as a career?

Growing up in a very rural part of Japan, exposure to foreign languages or cultures was non-existent. The only English-speaking person I knew was an English teacher from America who came to my local school once a week. However, it was my grandfather who introduced me to the joy of bridging the language gap and overcoming barriers.

He was a master brewer of Sake in the 1990s, and was a pioneer in introducing craft beer in Japan. He went to Germany to learn how to brew beer with literally zero ability to communicate in English, let alone German and when he came home, he told me all about his exciting adventure; and what has stayed with me to this day, is how extremely grateful he was to his interpreter for playing an integral part in him achieving his goal.

That was the first time I learned about the profession of interpretation and to me, it sounded like an utter magic for someone to speak multiple languages and to enable people who speak different languages to communicate. I am forever grateful to my grandfather for inspiring me to pursue this career.    

What do you love about your job?

In recent months the world’s population has tipped over 8 billion people yet reflectively the world seems to have shrunk to the size of a mobile device. Breath-taking advances in technology have enabled us to communicate with relative ease no matter where we are in the world, and this was particularly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have never been so connected yet studies show how isolated we have all become. Never has the power of effective communication been so important in the fast paced and everchanging world in which we are all part.

One of the most rewarding elements of a career as an interpreter is the fact that you help people understand each other and communicate efficiently. The efforts that I put into learning a foreign language and mastering the art of interpretation receive their best reward with the simple thank you or facial expressions of the people you work with. Conveying the right message from one language to another and thus breaking the communication barriers is something I really love about this profession. 

Being an interpreter also means that I need to keep track of the new developments, both in relation to the languages that I work with and to the technologies associated with translation and interpretation. Choosing this career means embracing lifelong learning and the different methods and trends in e-learning which means I’m never standing still and continuing to keep ahead of transforming technologies.

I have also been very fortunate over the years that my job as an interpreter has afforded me the opportunity to travel to other cities, states, and countries. The chance to visit new places and learn more about their culture, outlook, history and traditions can be enriching and life changing; enabling me to communicate and serve people better.

Tell us about the differences working with LSPs and direct clients

I have a number of long-standing direct clients but I do tend to work more with Language Service Providers (LSPs). The advantages of working with direct clients is that I can get to know them over time and forge effective working relationships which then helps bring about positive outcomes.  A disadvantage perhaps to working with direct clients is that building these working relationships can take  time, and in the early stages you may feel a little unsure of the credibility of a new client.  However, that is where J-NET (ITI’s Japanese language network) comes in handy as I can ask other members if they know or have worked with the client I am about to begin a new working relationship with. There is nothing more reassuring than first hand reviews from your trusted colleagues.  

I do really enjoy working with direct clients but I also value collaborating with LSPs. An advantage of this pathway is that it offers opportunities to work with a wider range of clients. Also, LSP Project Managers have wealth of knowledge and experience as they are often linguists themselves, so they are a great source of support both linguistically and for general administrative needs.  

Who would be your dream client and why?

Working for the UN would certainly be a dream client because for nearly three decades the UN has been bringing together almost every country on earth for global climate summits and for the first time every country agreed to work together to limit global warming. Climate change has gone from being a fringe issue to a global priority and Japan aims to lead the world in building a decarbonised and recycling-oriented society by promoting diverse and multi-layered initiatives that are rooted in daily life and are based on cities and regions. To be part of this dialogue I would feel I have contributed in some way in securing and building a greener world for future generations to inherit.