Difficulties Beginning Chinese-Eng Translation
Thread poster: xxxBarrett Laz
xxxBarrett Laz
United States
Local time: 18:14
Chinese to English
Dec 11, 2013

Hello,

My name is Barrett. I started learning Chinese when I was 22..A little late when you compare that to most of my Chinese counterparts. I got interested in Chinese because, as a student of philosophy, we are not generally exposed to Eastern thought. I also wanted to learn a language, and since China's philosophical history is particularly wide, I choose Chinese. I lived in Taiwan for 3 years, and I have been back in America for several months. I have no problem reading small novels and I can understand the meaning of philosophical, historical and religious texts, but I may not know every single word. I am still studying very hard, and I have been doing so for about 4 years. Anyway, the reason I am writing is that I recently failed a translation test. I successfully translated a Chemistry paper a couple weeks ago, which I could share if someone wants to review it, and I felt good about my abilities. But just the other day, I was told my translation of a Volkswagen ad translation test was "not that accurate and contained some errors'. I am a little bummed out. Has anyone else had a similar experience learning a language, specifically Chinese, so late and then successfully translating for a living? I feel like I just missed the boat. Even though I am confident that I do well, I am not even close to perfect...I won't give up, but I just feel like my chops aren't that good. I'm 26...I don't know what the difference will be in 2-3 years. Hope you guys and gals can help, I've seen very nice things on these forums.


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Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:14
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
Don’t be discouraged Dec 11, 2013

Dear Barrett,

Your translations probably could be better, you’ve just started. I started out with IT translations into Dutch and it took me some time to see and understand the difference between erase, delete, remove, cancel and discard. The same was and often still is true for the copywriters in my source languages, for my proof-readers and most of the Dutch.

I hate proof-reading and the people I proof-read hate me: most translators start out defending themselves but give up after a few paragraphs. There’s only so much criticism someone can take before becoming despondent.

Accept that your translation of the Volkswagen ad wasn’t good enough. I read German literature with less effort than most Germans and I know more about Bertolt Brecht than any German I’ve ever met. But my Dutch test translation of a German Volkswagen ad could disappoint the proof-reader or end user.

On a wide scale brand ads come just after literature and science. Ask politely for the corrected files your prospect has received and don’t protest, just learn.

Success,
Gerard


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:14
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Maybe you failed on translation techniques? Dec 11, 2013

I agree with Gerard that it's important not to get discouraged at such an early stage. It's a blow, of course, but it doesn't have to be fatal.

There are three common causes for failing a translation test, if we accept that the testers know what they're doing (which is sadly not always the case): (1) the translator doesn't understand the source text completely; (2) s/he doesn't have good writing skills in the target languages; or (3) s/he doesn't know what exactly is required.

I'm wondering if it was the third cause in your case. You don't seem to have undergone any translation education so it could perhaps be that you understood the source and you wrote a good text in the target language, but maybe it wasn't an acceptable commercial translation. There are certain rules for dealing with proper names, acronyms, untranslatable text etc. I only work between French and English but I imagine there's an added complication when different writing systems are involved.


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xxxxxLecraxx
Germany
Local time: 00:14
French to German
+ ...
translating ads Dec 12, 2013

Barrett Lazas wrote:

(...)my translation of a Volkswagen ad (...)


The translation of ads isn't exactly the easiest thing to do, especially ads from cultures very different from one's own... I understand Japanese and when I read Japanese ads on the internet, I sometimes wonder how to translate them into German. Mission impossible. Just not my cup of tea. I wouldn't be discouraged, maybe you should just focus on other subject fields.


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xxxBarrett Laz
United States
Local time: 18:14
Chinese to English
TOPIC STARTER
thanks Dec 13, 2013

I really appreciate the feedback. Since I know I won't give up, there's nothing to do but keep working hard. It's just a trip, because I really got into the language to understand the philosophy of the culture, and when you find you can't translate as well as you may imagine, you question how deep your understanding of the language is and can be. You guys are the best. 加油!

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Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:14
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
You're attitude will help you to get far Dec 13, 2013

Dear Barrett,

In France we have charpentiers, menuisiers and ébénistes. They all work with wood, but it's the result that counts, not the intention.

Success,
Gerard


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Weedy Tan  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 06:14
Chinese to English
+ ...
Don't Despair... Dec 21, 2013

As most of the others have said in one way or the other, one test will not be a measure of what you are capable of doing.

In most Chinese commercial ads, to make it look nice and save on using too many words (verbose), most of the terms used will be 成語 (proverbs) and 文言文 (classical Chinese) and it is not always possible to accurately translate its equivalent in English.

Keep reading and practising your Chinese and you will be better in time.

加油,

Weedy


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KKastenhuber  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 00:14
Russian to German
+ ...
Ask them what was wrong with your test so you can improve Dec 21, 2013

"Not that accurate and contained some errors" isn't exactly a very useful comment on your translation test. I would suggest you ask them to provide more detailed feedback so you know what you need to work on.

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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 06:14
Chinese to English
Taiwan, time, conventions, specialisms... Dec 21, 2013

Hi, Barrett.

First of all, welcome and keep at it. There is a huge need for good, committed translators of Chinese. It's a great job and a great market.

To your specific issue, I have a few ideas:
1) Taiwanese language can be very different to mainland language, particularly in the subtle stuff like advertising. I don't know if your ad came from the mainland, but I do know that I've found Taiwanese advertising very hard to understand and translate.
2) Advertising is hard anyway, and your four years really isn't very long. Don't be hard on yourself if there are certain kinds of text you're still finding hard.
3) Where was the client? If the client was a mainland Chinese company/agency, they may have been looking for some rather literal translation. Often they want "literal" translations which are rather conventionalised vocab equivalents. You can learn the style, but you'd be better off just avoiding these jobs altogether, because they're really looking for Chinglish.
4) Advertising is very different to academic stuff, whether humanities or sciences. Moving from one specialism to another can easily cause problems, however good your language skills.

All of which is to say there are many reasons why a test or a single job might go wrong. Don't worry too much about it. If they gave you specific criticisms, then learn what you can, but otherwise just move onwards and upwards.

Barrett Lazas wrote:

Hello,

My name is Barrett. I started learning Chinese when I was 22..A little late when you compare that to most of my Chinese counterparts. I got interested in Chinese because, as a student of philosophy, we are not generally exposed to Eastern thought. I also wanted to learn a language, and since China's philosophical history is particularly wide, I choose Chinese. I lived in Taiwan for 3 years, and I have been back in America for several months. I have no problem reading small novels and I can understand the meaning of philosophical, historical and religious texts, but I may not know every single word. I am still studying very hard, and I have been doing so for about 4 years. Anyway, the reason I am writing is that I recently failed a translation test. I successfully translated a Chemistry paper a couple weeks ago, which I could share if someone wants to review it, and I felt good about my abilities. But just the other day, I was told my translation of a Volkswagen ad translation test was "not that accurate and contained some errors'. I am a little bummed out. Has anyone else had a similar experience learning a language, specifically Chinese, so late and then successfully translating for a living? I feel like I just missed the boat. Even though I am confident that I do well, I am not even close to perfect...I won't give up, but I just feel like my chops aren't that good. I'm 26...I don't know what the difference will be in 2-3 years. Hope you guys and gals can help, I've seen very nice things on these forums.


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earlyesther  Identity Verified
Singapore
Local time: 06:14
English to Indonesian
+ ...
22 is not late at all! Now, find a Chinese grammar book. Dec 22, 2013

Hi Barrett,

Trust me, 22 is not late at all. And when you say you're 26, wow, much of your future is still out in front of you. I learned French when I was 25 and until now I still remember how I sacrificed my lunch break only to conjugate verbs. Then, if VW turned you down, I was turned down by Bentley. We need to learn from our 'failure' and have a big heart on any negative feed-back, but sometimes, clients have their own preferences, which are, again, sometimes subjective. We never know this. So, the best thing is to do now is just to consider this experience as something that prepares you to win bigger projects in the future.

For Chinese itself, I suggest you to find a good book on Chinese grammar, such as Modern Chinese Grammar from Oxford or Schaum Outlines Chinese Grammar, then start allocating regular time to do grammar exercise. That's what I did, and still doing until now. If you do it regularly, within several months you will see that not just your comprehension but also your understanding on this language starts to improve. By understanding I mean you start to get a knack on the whole picture of Chinese, as a language, from the linguistic point of view. Both of those grammar books present Chinese from the English-linguistic point of view: how to deal with adverbs (which is still confusing for me), concept of time (time expression, not just tenses), counting (which I believe you know completely different from English) and many things else. You will see the author compares the Chinese/English concept consecutively, and if we do translation, this comparison is such a great help. Oxford is accurate but Schaum provides wider point of view. The only defect is there are many typhos in the simplified characters at Schaum.

From what I have learnt about Chinese, this language might not be accurate in time expression, since it doesn't differentiate past and future (no tenses), but it is very accurate in describing intention, like zhongshi and laoshi (the one that I've just learnt) or wei shenme and hebi, which in English, the speakers express the intention only using the voice tone. Still on this matter, if you are in advertising, probably knowing such concept as the difference between zanmen and women will help. I know that the radio/new announcers that I usually listen to usually use zanmen instead of women.

The thing is keep on doing it. In learning language, there is no such concept of 'being there', since once you are 'there', you will start to be 'here' again. By this I mean language learning is a spiral-like thing. What you don't understand now, you will find that you 'suddenly' understand it in the future, due to your regular practice.

I'm also face the same challenge with you and I believe many others experience the same thing, so don't be discouraged. Jiayou!


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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 06:14
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Euphemisms of proofreading Dec 23, 2013

KKastenhuber wrote:

"Not that accurate and contained some errors" isn't exactly a very useful comment on your translation test. I would suggest you ask them to provide more detailed feedback so you know what you need to work on.

Usually, when the errors are negligible or minor, a proofreader will say so. When they have to say that a translation was "not that accurate and contained some errors", it usually means "highly inaccurate, with gross misunderstandings or an unreasonable number of errors".

If you don't feel that you have a sufficient grasp of your second language, you should not be a translator. Not everyone who plays the piano is a professional performer. There are enough confident incompetents around as it stands.


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Texte Style
Local time: 00:14
French to English
chemistry and advertising Dec 23, 2013

Barrett, knowing all the words in the source language is only the first step to producing a good translation.

I see you did a good translation of a chemistry paper. Chemistry and advertising are two very different fields. For a chemistry paper, you need to be totally accurate terminology-wise and you have to translate the text exactly, adding nothing, subtracting nothing. The only time you stray from the text is when you realise there's a mistake in there, and then you have to alert the author to the mistake so it can be corrected in the source. The text is hard to understand, because it's highly specialised and also because the author doesn't care one bit about making sure that their meaning is clear: they assume the reader knows enough to get their drift because they are writing for their peers. They are not necessarily gifted with writing skills either, the chances are that they are more interested in chemistry than in language.

Advertising is a whole different kettle of fish. Initially it looks a whole lot easier to translate simply because the text is well written and easy to understand.

However appearances are deceptive.

You may understand the message in the advert easily, but the people who wrote it spent ages making sure that you would. They tried dozens of synonyms, they sought out words that would appeal to their target customers (for example you don't use military metaphor when your target customer is a young mother), they twisted each sentence this way and that until it sounded just right: short and snappy, hard-hitting, with a pun perhaps for a touch of humour, perhaps using a turn of phrase that will recall a previous advert or tap into some new phenomenon.

The translator of advertising material has to do the same. There may only be 20 words that need translating, but to do it properly you have to examine each and every one of them, ponder why that word was used instead of this, research the firm's business creed, look at their target customers, their reputation, their pledge to customers, previous ads for the same product or similar ones, what the competition is saying and how this company's stuff is different, and better, and most importantly what they are hoping to achieve with this advert and how. You have to take a good look at the terminology and style of the firm's communications in general and draw inspiration from it. In short you have to live and breathe the product until you can come up with an equivalent slogan in your target language. You have to make sure that what you write will appeal to the target customers speaking the target language. You may have to ditch some ideas or emphasise an aspect of the product that isn't mentioned in the source ad.

Not everyone can do this. I can, but then I can't translate chemistry papers. Very few translators are good at both since they require very different skills. So you might want to meditate the kind of texts you want to specialise in?


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Mark Sanderson  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 06:14
Chinese to English
Hello Mar 23, 2014

Hi Barrett,

How are things going for you these days? I am also new to the translation industry and have connections to Taiwan, so it would be great to share some experiences.

Wishing you all the best,

Mark


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