Lecture #2: Chinese-English Translation: A Suggested Method for Beginning Students

Lecture #2: Chinese-English Translation: A Suggested Method for Beginning Students

Carl Gene Fordham
Beijing International Studies University
Monday 23 October 2017

You can watch it either on YouTube or Bilibili.

YouTube: Chinese-English Translation: A Suggested Method for Beginning Students

Bilibili (哔哩哔哩): 【傅君恺】趣谈中文翻译:一个推荐给初学者的翻译方法

Sorry this has taken over four months to post this! I have been incredibly busy of late. I actually gave this lecture in October last year, but have only just had time to write up a summary and translation today. I am planning on giving a few more public lectures at BISU this semester, so stay tuned!

What I Discussed in my Lecture
You might remember that during the first public lecture I gave at BISU I talked about the importance of cultivating good study habits when learning a foreign language. I also discussed some common problems faced by Chinese learners of English. In this follow-up lecture, my focus is primarily on translation, specifically Chinese-into-English translation. I provide a step-by-step procedure that students can follow when doing translation exercises and projects.

Naturally, this should only be taken as a guide; if you find my suggestions useful, you can try to incorporate them into your work, but everyone has their own working style, so I encourage students to develop their own methods as well. In addition, teachers rarely give students a clear breakdown of how translation is done by professionals, so I think my ideas can at least be a good starting point for discussion.

Before presenting my translation process, I discuss with the audience some issues that I believe can be addressed by placing more emphasis on process and practice in translation training.

Problem No. 1
First I discuss the distinction between the translation product and process, and how the former is often emphasised by teachers to the neglect of the latter. I present an image of a cabinet and ask the audience to imagine they are cabinetmakers and it is their job to teach students how to make them. I propose that it would be absurd to give a bunch of inexperienced students a beautiful, finished cabinet and ask them to simply copy it by themselves. And yet this is exactly the way translation is taught by many teachers.

Teachers give students products (i.e. reference translations) and ask them to copy them, but very little is explained about how that product is actually made. Sometimes they give students raw materials (grammar, vocabulary) and diagrams (theory) but this still does not provide much insight about the complicated process involved when translating a text. In my view, this is something that must addressed in translation schools. I also note that this phenomenon is less common in interpreting training.

Problem No. 2
Then I talk about a common complaint of Chinese students and teachers: that almost all the theories they learn about are based on Western languages, which often hold very little relevance to their own translation experiences. I propose that the problems Chinese language translators face tend to be much more complex than those faced by European language translators.

Chinese and English have almost no relationship between each other, as they have developed completely independently of each other. To take Western linguistic theories and apply them directly to Chinese translation is like comparing apples with oranges. We should encourage Chinese translation teachers to come up with their own understandings of the translation process that students can relate to and apply directly in their own work.汉语和英语几乎没有关联,因为他们相互间完全独立发展。将西方语言学理论直接应用于汉语翻译如同将苹果和橘子进行对比。我们应该鼓励教授翻译的中国教师拥有其对翻译过程的独到见解,对学生有意义,并且能让学生直接将其应用于他们的翻译任务中。

Problem No. 3
The urgency to develop a practical process for Chinese translation students to follow is clear when one considers the fact that Chinese-English translation is one of the biggest language directions in the world, and its market is only going to grow larger as China becomes increasingly powerful on the international stage.

Despite this, the translation industry in China is far less developed than that of Europe and the United States. In China there are very few agreed-upon standards and principles of translation (especially Chinese-into-English) that would help improve the quality of translations here, and thereby avoid embarrassing renderings like “Hotel for Aliens”, and the myriad of Chinglish expressions we have all been exposed to.
即便如此,中国翻译行业的发展远远落后于欧洲和美国。中国几乎没有能够帮助提高翻译质量的公认翻译标准和原则(特别是汉英互译)来避免诸如Hotel for Aliens这样的尴尬表述,以及我们都见过的无数中式英语表达。

My Method
Please note that my method is but one among many, and a basic one at that, targeted at beginners. It is intended for non-literary texts, since translating literature is an intricate process that could probably never be streamlined in such a fashion. The method is mainly based on my own experience of projects with tight deadlines. Since everyone has their own style of working, I hope students can use this presentation as inspiration to develop their own method that works best for them.

Why Focus on Method?
In project management we often talk about the requirements of Time, Quality and Cost represented in the Project Management Triangle, and how it is difficult to achieve all three in a given project. In my presentation I propose a new triangle diagram specially for translators that takes into account our professional standards of Accuracy, Fluency and Timeliness. I explain in my lecture how my translation process can go some way toward improving these three requirements, and especially those of accuracy and timeliness.

Basic Principles
If we acknowledge that Chinese and English are two languages with almost no common ground, we should encourage students to understand as much about the cultural, social and linguistic differences as possible. As far as I am concerned, no good C-E translator can produce professional translations without this awareness.

The advantage of this method is it forces the translator to give equal emphasis to both the literal meaning of the source text and the grammatical and stylistic requirements of the target text. This will become clearer to the audience during the presentation section, where I show in real time how my process can be carried out on a couple of example texts.

Stages in My Method
My method involves three stages, or the “Three Rs”:
我的方法包括三个阶段,或称Three Rs:

1. Reading
2. Rendering
3. Revising

Stage One: Reading
During this stage, I read the ST in its entirety, making sure I understand every term and concept used. I may need to consult native speakers or experts for some tricky terms or concepts. Lastly, I open the document in my word processor and divide it into digestible chunks, to make the translation process easier to handle.

Stage Two: Rendering
Then, I translate every unit (every zi [Chinese character] and ci [Chinese word]) of the source text literally. To save time I only make idiomatic shifts (i.e. changes to sentence structures, collocations or expressions) instinctively. Lastly, I maintain the original sentence structure and even grammar where possible, as long as the rendering is still readable.

Stage Three: Revising
In this last stage, I re-read my rendering and make as many changes as possible. During this time I may fix grammatical errors, change sentence structures and word orders to make them more idiomatic or to conform with target language norms, and make final decisions on ‘tricky’ units.

Benefits of This Method
In my mind, there are three main benefits to this method. First, it streamlines the translation process. I can deal with simple renderings first, make quick progress early on, and leave difficult parts for later. Second, it minimises fatigue. I can separate accuracy and fluency, so I do not have to focus on both at once. Third, it prevents mistranslation. During the Rendering stage, I can ensure every unit is accounted for, so nothing is left out. This is particularly important for legal and commercial texts, or any text where small details in the source text are crucial.

Examples of the Method in Action
I then present two examples of my proposed translation method by way of a TAP, i.e. a Think-Aloud Protocol. This involves recording myself translating a text, during which time I provide commentary on the process in real time. In my lecture I then present the video and analyse my performance so students can better understand the translation process. You can watch the lecture video on YouTube or Bilili to see the method in action.
然后我通过“出声思维法”(Think-Aloud Protocol)展现了两个我自己的翻译实践例子。出声思维法可以记录我翻译文本的过程,然后在这个过程中我实时做出评论。在演讲中我播放了视频并且分析了自己的表现,这样学生可以更好地理解翻译过程。你可以在YouTube或哔哩哔哩上观看该视频以了解此方法在实践中的运用。

Some Caveats
Though TAP is a useful tool for students and teachers, it is not without its flaws. Notably, it only reveals parts of the process that are conscious to the translator, so any task performed unconsciously cannot usually be revealed. Also, in my presentation I only chose two simple texts that are not good representations of professional-level translations.

I did this for three reasons. One, it is very time-consuming to present professional-level translation to a general audience due to its complexity. Second, most translation projects are highly confidential. Third, not everyone in the audience had a background in translation. For these reasons I chose to use simple texts, but in future sessions we could see what could be learnt by applying the method to higher-level texts.

And that’s it! Be sure to watch the lecture video in its entirety to understand how my proposed translation process works. I look forward to reading your feedback in the comments section!


3 Comments to "Lecture #2: Chinese-English Translation: A Suggested Method for Beginning Students"

  1. Wanni's Gravatar Wanni
    26/10/2018 - 2:16 am | Permalink

    thanks for sharing,Carl.

  2. Ingrid Jukes's Gravatar Ingrid Jukes
    22/09/2022 - 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this!
    I’m just about to finish a BA majoring in Chinese and was hoping to go on to study a Masters of translation at RMIT Melbourne. But I’m beginning to think maybe my Chinese level isn’t high enough yet, they say you need ‘advanced Chinese language proficiency ‘. I’m wondering what they consider as ‘advanced ‘? I’m guessing I’m at about HSK 5. I wonder if you could tell me what level is expected to enrol in this course? I’d love to do translation as a profession one day. Really glad I came across your site 😃

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