April 1, 2011

The Road to Surround – Part 1: To acquire the skill for writing, listening, and talking

By. Mick Sawaguchi

Hired by NHK in 1971 upon graduation, 35 years have quickly passed by 2005.
Back in my memory, the days of a radio-freak boy in junior high school transformed
into the college nights performing jazz then turned out as handling audio of
broadcast media as profession.

The red string of sound might twine such a road. Any single person has his own
life and his road that he walked through where nobody but only him can accumulate
some unique and precious experience. I would like to put my own approaches in
a concrete form of writing in this publishing that gave me the opportunities
to brush up my 「skill of writing」 in the long years of relationship. I hope
this serves in one way or another to offer some kind of hints to inspire those
who work in large or small companies and those who run their own freelance endeavor.

This first section discusses to acquire the skill of presentation.

1. To acquire the skill for writing, listening, and talking
Engineers hate such stuff by nature, and this concept always made me believe
that it drove me to become an engineer. However, it is often essential in your
working environment to make a brief explanation of important points to non-technical
people quickly, or to compose a one-sheet A4 report to convince someone. You
may tend to make an excuse saying there is no such time when you are in production,
relying on someone else to do it for you. In my twenties, I often experienced
that the number of pages kept increasing once I started writing myself and the
points to discuss were not clearly focused as I review my writing. One of my
colleagues enjoyed such a talent, and I borrowed from him a book about the art
of making sentences tidy to study 「how to write a clean sentence avoiding all
the literal ambiguities」.

This may appear contradictory to preferred assets in the production facilities
where they value emotions, but I emphasize that the skill of making things concise
and clear is important.

2. To exercise writing skills
I wanted to exercise this in the real situation and started writing articles
in industry magazines. It was necessary to package my article within the required
number of pages and in the given deadline. Furthermore, the work will be exposed
to the eyes of severe readers, and the failure because of negligent writing
could lead not to receive any repeat orders from the publisher. Mr. Ishii of
Aoi Studio offered the very first opportunity to me at that time that was the
Editor of

「Recording」 magazine. Mr. Ishii used to collect technical information around
the world actively for himself, and this was a good chance for me to know the
world of movie sound.

Your determination to write is not enough because it does not guarantee making
some editors interested. This requires the preparation and research for information
to compose an article with attractive topics. My training for this in the time
around 1976 was the library inNHK R&D Center in Kinuta where I visited whenever
I found time to read documents and foreign industry magazines about audio. There
were reports and papers by broadcasters in such countries as England, Canada,
US and Germany, too. The R&D library was truly[ a wonderland] for me. On
the other hand in the production division, there existed an apparent air to
devote yourself primarily for productions in full-hand. It was indeed not easy
to make time authorized by my manager. It was a first step to Fighting to my
environment since then.

3. A private English lesson
The next challenge I encountered was English in foreign documents. I had no
interest in English language when I was a student, but now without it you won't
understand which is the most valuable part in a document. The articles in industry
magazines are not entirely laid out sequentially, hopping here and there, and
often a page in the end is allocated for extra portions of variety of articles.
I could manage reading technical papers with a dictionary in my hand, but the
terms or so-called [buzz words] were totally impossible. At that time the film
recording was one of major topics, and my dictionary was helpless for such words
as SEPMAG, COMMAG, ADR, LOOP, and FOLEY. How did I solve this?

Having been transferred to the headquarters Broadcast Center in Shibuya from
Yamagata station where I had been initially assigned, I came across with an
American hospital called Tokyo Sanitary Hospital on my way to commute and I
heard that an American intern held his English class on Sundays. I decided to
receive a private lesson for 1 hour in Sunday morning.

This probably helped me gain my attitude to[ act immediately when needed]. The
teacher was not bi-lingual and I had to struggle establishing communication
in English. For about first 6 months, using a textbook, I studied the language
fundamentals. In the next stage afterward, the lesson started with my teacher's
question asking me [what did you do last week?] I tried to recall what I did
in the last week, and then the teacher picked up some topics which he found
interesting. I replied to him and the conversation continued. The fee was 4
x 3,000 yen, which was tough considering my monthly salary, was in the range
of 50,000 Yen, particularly causing difficulties on my wife (and ever since
I tend to behave like a servant in front of her!).

On the other hand, I had some confidence that a self-investment would gain multiple
returns. We should remark that the investment for myself is very important.
Especially while you are young until thirties, your self-investment will gain
some positive asset in later days.

4. Hearing Practice
The opportunity of[ English hearing] to accumulate the experience is not usually
readily available. In schools at that time was the focus of English classes
on the language as knowledge with no live conversation, hence your brain will
never be trained for hearings. How could I improve it? The only solution was
to find more opportunities. Luckily, the 3 years at Tokyo Sanitary Hospital
offered me a good, basic training, but the opportunity for the next step was
not easy to find.
Here was Yamada-san of General Traders that is the distributor of pro-audio
products in Japansuch as Neve so far. Whenever the manufacturers visit from
overseas and hold seminars, he was the interpreter. I asked him how one could
achieve the skill of translating the details on the spot. His answer was [there
are certain patterns in the structure of talks, and the rest would be terminology
and specific technical knowledge, so as you repeat the sessions, you will automatically
achieve it.]
Then I made a brave request to him to have me as interpreter when they visit
our Broadcast Center next time. I had little hesitation because any failure
would be forgiving in front of my colleagues and Yamada-san would follow me
up anyway.

The time has come in 1982 when Neve announced their new digital console called
DSP in AES convention and Dr. Tilseley visited Japan on their way back home.
A lecture session of digital console was organized in Shibuya Broadcast Center
and I was going to be the interpreter. A digital console? What kind of technology?
I got the copy of AES paper and studied it before the seminar. I had to focus
all my brains on what was spoken by lecturer, which made me completely exhausted
after the session, but this was definitely a valuable opportunity of challenge.
I think it important to be brave to make even a half-step forward if not one

By the way, I learned a colloquial expression 「privilleged」 that is used in
the beginning of greeting speech in British English.

The language memory fades out if not used repeatedly, so the new challenge was
how to maintain it. I took advantage of manufacturers visits to our Center from
overseas. I could spend half-day soaked in English, plus continued conversation
over drinks in the evening to gain more friendship as an extra bonus. In this
way my [allergy to Gaijin] could be minimized.

(Note that this allergy quickly resumes if not controlled properly. I often
experienced in my early days that my mind felt fading as I shook hands with
Because the topics are usually regarding our studio equipment, my expression
would be echoed back with the correct English words, and I could learn the proper
expression. As I gained more experience on this, manufacturers could visit us
with no interpreters to assist to result an efficient win-win for both.

I tried not to drop any single word when I was focusing on hearing in the beginning,
but I found later that English was well-designed language accentuating relevant
words naturally louder while less relevant words flew. In my thirties, I visited
AES Conventions the purpose of which was partially my English training, and
I could have abundant time speaking English for an entire week! I had to talk
to some manufacturers as a stranger requiring some determination to step forward,
but only your repeated efforts can help it.

The skill of talking requires a few efforts. The good lesson for me to learn
how one could convey a message successfully was the actual talking styles by
various people from all over the world that I saw in their presentation and
paper reading in AES Conventions and workshops. They were indeed trained since
their childhood practicing to convince others with their ideas, and I often
found their presentation was entertaining along with the academic excellence
not to bore the audience even visually. Good talkers always insert some attractive
topic in the beginning, and if the audience bursts laughing, it already indicates
a success. The rest may be easier laying down the structured summary and discuss
details, followed by a conclusion or presentation of a challenge. In 70s in
Shibuya, I could find no good reference handy. A senior engineer colleague recommended
me to read a document titled [English for Engineers] that was kept as internal
archive. (This textbook is still available from Kenrokkan Publishing.) The fact
that there existed someone who accumulated such know-hows and formulate into
a textbook in those days really made me admire him. Things are more organized
today controlling the scenario and timing of presentations with computers and
applications. My arrangement is usually to allocate 1 minute per page when I
compose a presentation. 15 minutes for total 14 pages or 20 minutes for 18 pages
will lead to a concise and successful presentation.

I explained here about brushing up the skill for writing, listening and talking
in relation with presentations those engineers are often not good at. The world
is shifting from company-to-company basis to a more global situation.

How you can explain successfully to others what you have worked and achieved
is one of essential skills to obtain.

To make efforts to find more opportunities for writing an article, taking advantages
of making a presentation, carefully listening to what others try to tell you
will depend on your individual sensitivity and desire to achieve, coupled with
the practice to act. *

2006.1 Broadcast Technology Magazine

Part 2: A sweet-potato-vine-style study method - to keep expanding questions in your workplace >>>

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