Staff Interview

September 2014

Staff Interview: Toko Miyagi

With a career including unconventional professions such as life sciences researcher, Toko Miyagi now works as an interpretation coordinator - or, in other words, acts as a mediator between clients and interpreters - at Arc Communications.
Here is the key to Arc Communications' interpretation success and the reasons why we have many repeat customers.

Toko Miyagi's Career: From a Scientific Educational Background to Interpretation Coordination

− You come from a scientific background, what was the tangent point with English?

I always had an interest for the English language. And I was equally interested in life sciences, so I decided to major in that discipline at ICU (International Christian University). I chose this institution because it would allow me to concurrently study English and life sciences.

− Thus striking two birds with one stone.

Exactly. At the university, I used to analyze the DNA of viruses. Then, I went to graduate school at The University of Tokyo, and later worked at a research institute established by a semiconductor manufacturer. Research was fun, but I had to quit to home-nurse my parents. So, I found a new balance between house caring and studying coaching.

− That is quite a change of field, I must say.

When I was doing coaching, I got to meet Arc Communications CEO, Mariko Ohsato, at a school reunion. After that, I would give her some work advice from time to time, and through this connection I joined Arc.

The Work of an Interpretation Coordinator in a Nutshell: Connecting Customers and Interpreters

− What does an interpretation coordinator do exactly?

At Arc, we provide our B to B interpretation services mainly in the fields of IT, technology, finance, medical areas, etc. Depending on a certain number of factors, the skills that are required from an interpreter may be dramatically different: where is the meeting taking place, what kind of contents? So, planning and finding the best match for a specific project is the coordinator's mission.
Sometimes, in addition to the preparatory work, I also go on location. That is because, after having prepared beforehand the documents and relevant documentation provided by the customer, it's important to attend to some of the changes that may occur on the day of the event. I try to maintain an environment which allows for the interpreters to perform at their best, avoid being under-documented, and give chocolates to interpreters, etc. (Laughs)

− This must be especially important for highly technical fields, I imagine.

Basic and practical knowledge and understanding of each business field is required. Since these are highly specialized fields, a same word can have completely different meanings from one field to another.
Likewise, some interpreters are more comfortable with specialized interpretations whereas others prefer working on general business fields involving only a limited level of specialization. In order to bring out the best performance out of an interpreter, it is crucial to assign them to projects that require them to work in an area they are familiar with.

− This means you have to select the most suited interpreter for the job?

Of course, that is important, too. But, I believe it is essential to set up the optimal working environment for both the customer and the interpreter. For instance, if you take the customer's point of view, sometimes they would rather not give too much information in advance so as to avoid leakages. On the other hand, interpreters need as much data as possible in order to prepare and be able to provide the best possible performance. So, that way, you have to take everybody's feelings and opinions into consideration to be able to aim for the best interpretation work.

− So, what sort of arrangements do you actually do?

Well, for example, I have to explain to the customers the advantages of providing as much documentation as possible beforehand. Meanwhile, I also have to explain to the interpreters how strict the customer's compliance agreement is. That way, they both have a better understanding of one another, which helps build an environment of mutual trust and lays the ground for a smooth interpretation process.

− Do you also give advice regarding the different methods of interpretation?

There are cases when a first time customer wants to organize a meeting and have interpreters attend, but don't really know about the process. In these kinds of cases, I start by explaining the basics: in this situation simultaneous interpretation would be most suited; if the speakers can break down their speech into short sentences it allows for consecutive interpretation; etc.

Toko Miyagi's Secret Coordination Technique: How to Make Repeat Customers

− How does your professional experience help you in your current work?

When I worked as a researcher and with a manufacturing company, I used to participate in these types of meetings. And, I remember feeling that the meetings between researchers and those between companies had a completely different feel to them. For that reason, now I try to find an interpreter who would best fit this or that company. For example, a customer might prefer someone with a self-effacing behavior, or someone outgoing to the point that he/she would take his/her own initiatives. So, I seek to assign interpreters not only based on their knowledge and skill sets, but also based on their ability to fit in a certain environment in order to provide more satisfying services.

− Frankly, what do you consider the most thrilling aspect of coordination work?

After learning coaching, I started being interested in bringing together elements that seem disjointed. For instance, interpreters are very professionally-minded people and wish that there skills be used to the fullest; that is why they ask for reference materials beforehand. Yet, companies have their own organizational rules to follow, and they want their information to be treated in conformity to their regulations. So for me, the most exciting aspect about this job is managing to help them reach a mutual understanding and creating an environment that is propitious to utmost cooperation while taking in both parties' wishes.

− And so, what's next for the interpretation department?

That's a tough one. (Laughs)
I would like for us to become partners with customers aiming at globalizing their business, and be there when they need us. Also, I wish to further enhance our degree of specialization in business fields.
Then, I would also like to provide the same level of quality to our customers overseas. We already have Japanese interpreters living abroad, and non-Japanese interpreters from various countries who have also had experience working in Japan, but I want to further expand our network. I strive to build a structure that would reassure our customers and interpreters, let them know that with Arc, their business is in good hands.


Toko Miyagi
Born and raised in Tokyo. Hobbies: horse riding, calligraphy, bouldering, sea kayak. Lives with three cats and two dogs.

My favorite movie

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973, USA), directed by Norman Jewison
That's where I first got into the English language. When I was preparing for my high school entrance exams, I studied English while learning the lyrics (of the many songs in the movie).