Foreign Language Key to Freedom

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“Welcome to the working week.
Oh I know it don’t thrill you, I hope it don’t kill you.
Welcome to the working week.
You gotta do it ’til you’re through it, so you better get to it.
Welcome to the working week.”

~ Elvis Costello

Come on folks; this terror alert nonsense is just getting really unbelievable. How much longer are you going to put up with this? How much more are you going to take?

Remember the good old days when America’s biggest problem was “Gangsta Rap”?

Today you have random searches; police carrying machine-guns standing around buildings; your bags being checked whenever you go into a crowded place; being pushed around by “rent-a-cops” who are on some sort of power-trip. The list goes on.

(And I don’t want to get into a discussion about ridiculous nonsense like, “The terrorists hate our freedoms.” No they don’t. If you haven’t figured out that terrorism occurs because of US state-sponsored terrorism and US support of Israel’s state-sponsored terrorism; then you are just living in a cave…)

The similarities are astounding sometimes

Have you gotten so used to this that you no longer think it unusual? How could you possibly want to raise your kids in such a place?

I’m not the greatest traveler in the world, but I have been through most of Asia and a few other places. And I have never seen or heard of anything like what’s going on now in the “Land of the Free” — Except in today’s Myanmar, North Korea, or when I went to a bar in Ensenada Mexico and there were two guards at the doors with automatic rifles.

This entire situation sounds like something you would have heard about Eastern Europe during the “Iron Curtain” days.

“But what can I do, Mike?” You ask.

Lots of people have been sending me e-mails asking me how they can go about emigrating. Well, that’s a difficult question to answer. I know this might sound a bit odd, and that’s probably because I’ve lived in Asia for so long, but I think emigrating is just something that you either do, or you don’t do. It’s that simple.

At this point in time, though, I might agree with some who have suggested that, “America is too far gone for anyone to fix.” But what about your kids? Do you want them to grow up in this situation? The way things are going now, I think in their case, the future will be, “Every man for himself.”

How are you going to help your child to stand out from the rest and get ahead? You certainly aren’t going to get it from public schooling.

I will give you folks a big tip on how you can help your children to always be able to get a good job and to have a very valuable skill and it will cost much less than college, that’s for sure!

What I am talking about is learning a foreign language. An American who can speak a foreign language is a rarity these days. And I know they are in high demand — Here in Japan and in America.

Which is smarter: Spending tens of thousands of dollars so your kid can go to college, get a degree, then become unemployed? (Because they studied something basically useless.) Or spending that same money on language school or foreign exchange and giving them a truly valuable skill as well as insight?

Sure it’s an unusual choice to make. And, actually, it’s one that your kid would have to ultimately decide. But to be truly proficient at a foreign language will require that they start young. That’s where you come in.

The top American/British to Japanese translators in my company are all doing quite well. I would be out of place to tell you their exact income. But I can tell you that I know a guy, who before he turned 30 years old, he was making more than a quarter million dollars a year — working three or four days a week. Just 15 years before this — he couldn’t speak Japanese! But he applied himself. He made the effort and it paid him well — And it still does.

George Williams — One the most famous foreigners on TV here in Japan. A millionaire before 30 years old.

I know another guy, who was 35 at the time, he worked a pretty hard schedule; but he was earning $50,000 per month or more. Even if you work a “regular job,” knowing another language can come in quite useful.

Let me give you an example. Here’s what happened to me yesterday:

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon. I’m taking a nap when my wife wakes me up.

“It’s some guy named Toda-San on the phone. He says he needs a professional translator.”

So I make my usual default grumblings to my wife about waking me up from my nappy time and answer the phone.

It seems one of the most famous Soccer teams in the world, FC Barcelona, is here in Tokyo playing a ‘friendly.’ Mr. Toda is desperate for a translator because his regular guy has fallen suddenly ill. So he has called me to see if he can find a quick replacement.

Well, this is a bad day. On this Sunday ‘Fuji Rock Festival’ is being held and the whiz-kid translators at my company are all at the festival holding bands like Aerosmiths’ hand to make sure they get to the bathroom without getting lost and back in one piece.

Fuji Rock Festival is Japan’s huge “Rock Extravaganza.” Three days of rock solid, er,… ‘rock.’ Outdoors among the birds and the trees. It’s much like the Woodstock Festival you Americans had, only much more so; I think the tickets for the 3 days were selling for about $400 dollars each.

So all of my best people were there, either doing TV shows or translating. The translators have to help out these dim-witted “artists” in many areas; they are basically acting as translator-slash-road manager for the rock bands. Translators usually make at least $800 per day. Pretty good for being able to hang around back-stage with the real rock and rollers. (God! Do I hate these ‘rock-star’ types.)

Hey, and changing the subject for a minute: Here’s a joke for you! What’s the difference between a rock band manager and a normal person? Well, when a normal person goes to the bathroom, they only have one butt-hole to worry about.

But I digress. So I tell Toda-san that he’s out-of-luck as I have no available staff to send out for translator work that day.

“How about you, Mike?” He says.

This really surprises me because a really good translator is hot-stuff. The ones at my company are usually, but not all, born and raised here and speak both languages fluently. The best guys I have are George and Mikey. George is the most famous young TV announcer in this country; and Mikey, even though he spent his entire childhood in Japan, somehow managed to graduate from University of California at Santa Barbara.

Mike Tarna — 23 years old and he already has three nationwide TV shows.

These guys make my Japanese sound like I’m brain damaged.

So I ask Toda-San if he is kidding me and he says:

“No! Actually Mike, I was hoping that you would do it because I want to introduce you to the chief producers at the TV network.”

“Yeah, but Toda-San, I don’t know anything about Soccer.” I tell him. Which is not exactly true. Because in the early 1980’s I used to coach a kid’s Soccer team in Ventura, California. My team’s name was, “The Green Machine.” I’m serious. I’m not making this up. Yeah. I was a great coach. Two years of Soccer coaching and my team did not win a single game. If that’s not bad enough, in those two years, we did not even score a single goal! After that, I swore I’d never have anything to do with Soccer again.

Toda says, “No, Mike, it’s okay if you don’t know anything about Soccer. You just translate the sports announcers question and give the answer.”

“Fair enough.” I think.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know my Japanese is good enough to do this kind of work; but I usually don’t. Why? Well, because I am hampered by two things: Extreme laziness; and a fear of going outdoors in large crowds where I may be exposed to assassination attempts. Didn’t you ever see that movie “Black Sunday?”

“Well okay, Toda-san. I continue, “How much do I get paid?”

“Three hundred dollars.” He says

I groan into the phone. He speaks up:

“Okay, five hundred dollars and cash on delivery.” My ears perk up.

“What exactly do I have to do?” I ask.

“Just watch the game from the pitch and translate for the players in case they do a TV interview after the game.”

“Well, that sounds pretty easy. I’ve never been to a professional Soccer game…. Do I get an all areas pass?” (I’ve always got to have one of those.)

“Yeah. Sure!”

So I hang up the phone and head down to the stadium. The place is packed. There are 81,000 people there to watch this game. And what is amazing about it is that FC Barcelona is one of the top clubs in the world playing the Kashima Antlers. The Kashima who? Yeah. That’s what I thought.

The Antlers are a Japanese Soccer League; “J-League team.” Which means they are terrible.

I’m there to translate for the FC Barcelona striker, a guy named Jonasson. There are a couple of other translators there too. They are all young Japanese people and they are so nervous that they are quivering. I tell them to relax and take it easy.

Anyhow, the game goes on for what seemed like forever — Well, it was at least two 45-minute halves. Jonasson scores, but he is over shadowed by the French-speaking player — whose name I can’t remember — who kicks in two or three goals.

So, the end result is 5 — 0. Barcelona wins. Since the French guy scored most of the goals, he’s the one interviewed on TV.

This guy’s name is Zico (I think). He is world famous.

The French to Japanese translator is shaking like a leaf. He stumbles through the interview and that’s that.

So I have nothing to do but collect my cash and split.

Not a bad job. I get to go and watch one of the premier teams in the world from the playing field; stand around for a while; and then I get $500 and go home. And you know they will call me next time and ask me to do the job again.

So I’m riding in the taxi home, when it dawns on me:

“What in the world are some young American people doing wasting their time going to college for? How much does college cost now-a-days?”

Japanese-nationals who are translators are a dime-a-dozen. But Americans who can translate can get jobs immediately.

And when it comes to a language that has to be translated into English — a native English speaker can’t be beat.

I know. Whenever we need top quality translation from Japanese to English we always use a non-Japanese. When we need from English to Japanese — we always use a Japanese person. Of course, the translation will sound more natural that way to the listener.

Many nay-sayers will argue that what I’m saying is “too far out of the box” to be practical. I don’t think so. I think that what I’m suggesting to you, for your children, is probably one of the easiest and most practical tickets “out” of a bad future. And I think that, to get ahead, you will have to “think out of the box” in the future because doing things like everyone else, will just get you nowhere.

Of course, “success” is relevant and it has a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time, luck, and personality. But then again, we all know that you make your own luck.

Learning a foreign language is not that difficult; I don’t care what anyone says. It merely requires determination and effort. And learning to speak a language well is definitely no more difficult than learning to play the guitar, riding a skateboard, or becoming “killer” at Play-Station.

If your child has time to sit around and do this kind of stuff, then they definitely have time to learn a language!

Of course, motivating a child to learn a language is tough. But no tougher than getting them to do their school-work. Need some motivation? How’s this for an easy example: If your kid loves computer games, baseball, or “Manga” — How about studying Japanese? I know that the guy who translates for Ichiro makes mega-bucks. His former girlfriend was a friend of my wife. He always dreamt of being a baseball player. Well, he wasn’t good enough to be a player, but he’s on the field every day now. Not bad, eh?

A future in business? How about Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, or German? Heck, probably even Russian is a good choice (remember in the 1950’s when all the college students thought it was cool to study Russian?)

Anyway, the point is that an often over-looked, easy to get education is readily available for your child. Be creative. Use their interests to direct them towards a language that they will like.

And finally, I’d like to share with you something a guy told me a long time ago when I was really studying Japanese hard. He said:

“It’s not how many words you know. It’s how well you use what you do know.”

He was absolutely right.

Oh and by the way, make sure your child studies English at the same time they learn a foreign language. It is important that they are more than proficient in their native tongue.

And I’ve said it many times before:

“The key to understanding a foreign culture is to understand its language…”

In the future, the key to freedom could just be understanding a foreign language.

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has worked as an independent writer, producer, and personality in the mass media for nearly 30 years.

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