English language skills an asset for women in Japan

In Japan, women who take a break from their job to look after their newborn children sometimes find it difficult to return to their former jobs or find a new one due to rigid societal and corporate thinking and a system that often prevents mothers from being taken on as a full-time employees.

Interpreter and translator Kyoko Yasui suggests, however, that such women may find that working as a freelancer in her field offers a route back to full-time work.

“I want women who are struggling to find a job to adopt a positive approach,” Yasui, 50, said in a telephone interview with The Daily Yomiuri last week. “By becoming a freelancer, they can draw up their own career plan.”

Based in Toyama, Yasui, a translator and mother of two, wrote two books for students of English: “Onna wa Eigo de Yomigaeru,” literally meaning “Women can be reborn with English skills,” and “Ondoku shite Tanoshimu Meisaku Eibun” (Reading aloud and enjoying literary masterpieces in English). Both books were published by ALC Press, Inc. and came out in December.

In “Onna wa Eigo de Yomigaeru,” Yasui describes how she relearned English at the age of 33 after moving from Tokyo, where she worked as a middle school teacher, to Toyama when her husband decided to work in a new field.

In the book, she also details the type of work done by her friends and acquaintances in English-language fields, discussing what it is really like to work as an interpreter, book translator or an independent English teacher.

“Ondoku-shite Tanoshimu Meisaku Eibun” aims at helping people understand and enjoy great works of English literature, and includes excerpts from such classic English stories as “Anne of Green Gables,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Romeo and Juliet.” Japanese translations are given as well as synopses of the stories and profiles of the authors. The book also includes a CD featuring readings of some of the works.

Born in Toyama, Yasui majored in modern German history at Tokyo Metropolitan University. Although she had hoped to become a researcher of German history, she became an English teacher for the practical reason that it would be far harder to find a job as a historian. She worked at a public middle school in Tokyo for seven years.

Within a year of returning to Toyama, however, she began feeling stressed about spending her days stuck at home as a housewife raising their son and daughter.

So the former English teacher began studying English for hours every day, and when she failed her Grade Pre-1 test that forms part of the Eiken English proficiency test, she was not dissuaded.

Eventually, Yasui’s efforts paid off, and she gained state certification as an interpreter-guide at the age of 37.

However, she soon realized that freelance translators who lived in her prefecture were unable to gain enough contracts to make ends meet.

“As a solution, I established a group of interpreters and translators based in Toyama Prefecture. It was very helpful for me to exchange information with people in the same field and to be able to casually discuss problems about our work. By utilizing the network, we also were able to share work out if one of us found we were too busy.”

She tells intermediate-level English learners that to improve they must read. “Read a lot of books written in English that are at your level, so there is no need to constantly look up words in a dictionary,” Yasui said. “It’s a great help in improving ease of understanding of English sentences.”

There are special textbooks edited for such reading recommended by the Japan Extensive Reading Association, she said.

“Once you acquire a certain level of English skill, it is a vocational advantage you keep for life,” she emphasizes.

“Also, for the elderly people I’m teaching in a public course, English can be a lifelong hobby,” Yasui said. “Whatever the purpose, I hope more people can find enjoyment in learning English.”

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