Learnt Mandarin Chinese to native English- what is the situation and outlook for interpreting?
Thread poster: trademe900
Feb 24, 2008

Hi there,

I am a native speaker of English and am starting study of Chinese Mandarin at University, hopefully looking to do post graduate study in translation/interpreting after a Bachelors degree. I have very basic knowledge of Chinese and have many Chinese friends, not to mention my Chinese partner who is almost the equivalent of a native English speaker! I have a real passion to learn the language...

I also intend on learning another language alongside this to construct my BA. I have some knowledge of French however it is not a language I think I would enjoy so much to study intensively.

I have some questions:

Interpreting (or translating) in Chinese to English and vice versa is a very desirable goal for me- what are the opportunities like in respect to my combination and ethnicity?

I would also like any views on interpreting domestically in regards to my country of residence. Here in New Zealand the amount of Asian Immigrants is huge, specifically Chinese and Korean. There are many, many people who can only speak limited English and none at all for some.

Also, what language would you recommend to study alongside Chinese? What would grant the most opportunities? How should I be weighing my options? Japanese or German would really grab my interest i think, however, would Jap add to confusion between the two Asian languages? Or would it compliment learning mandarin? What about having 2 Asian languages to interpret/translate into native English- is that desirable? Or rather, have some European diversity? Please advise!

I would absolutely love to have a career in languages. When i think of myself becoming an interpreter, whether it be with domestic business clients, conferences, court interpreter... that is the person i want to be. If teaching is a good idea before hand, I am more than happy to consider spending some of my life doing so. Afterall, at the same time I could work with fluency and complete a Masters in Interpreting. Interpreting is my ultimate goal, but I know what I want in life- to work with languages.

Thanks in Advance everybody!

[Edited at 2008-02-24 07:02]


mmihano4 (X)
Local time: 23:56
English to Croatian
+ ...
two asian languages Feb 24, 2008

I'd suggest studying two asian languages, korean and mandarin chinese would be a perfect combination, of course, if you can pull it off.
there is a lack of western people who translate from chinese and korean (or japanese) into english.
don't be afraid of mixing two similar languages. if studied in depth and combined with language trip abroad you won't mix them.
you have to be aware that most interpreters and translators work into their native language, so don't be discouraged if after several years of study you're still not able to interpret, or translate into Chinese or any other language that isn't your mother tongue. it take great many years of experience to be able to interpret into one's non -native language (the so called B language)
I've heard recently the chief of the interpretation unit of the State Department in the US that they urgently need translators Chinese to English, Korean to English.
so you see, even if you aren't US citizen, you still might get work elsewhere with such a language combination.


Carol So  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:56
Member (2008)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Interpreting from Chinese into English Feb 24, 2008

Hi, I am very new to this forum and just started to work as an English to Cantonese interpreter, and I maynot be able to give you lots of useful comments. What I want to say is I think it is very much useful and possible to learn two Asian langauges at the same time, and there is always a huge demand in Japanese/ Korean/ Vietnamese to English interpreters. It may be an advantage to make yourself an Asian expert who specialises in Asian languages. It depends very much on your interest, as I suppose some common European langauges, like French, German, Italian and Spanish, are used mostly in international business, and so you will be working with business, conferences, and commercial projects if you are interpreting from German into English, and vice versa. If you are doing Chinese/ japanese/ Korean into English, probably you will be more engaged in community interpreting or public service. I am not 100% sure about this may be someone can tell us their experiences.

Interpreting into your non native language, i.e. from English into Chinese, would be rather difficult though, I would imagine it could take you at least 5 years to reach that level. But anyway I think there is still a lack of English-speaking linguists who work with Asian langauges and Chinese and learning these langauges are always fun and useful.


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:56
English to Spanish
+ ...
More than one foreign language Feb 24, 2008

Whoa there! You are just starting Chinese and now you are thinking of other Asian and European languages as well?

Chinese is completely out of my area, but I can only think that for a person of western culture, really getting a grasp on such a language is something that will take years of intensive study and living the language on a daily basis. To learn it well will be the result of a lifelong passion and dedication.

In Spanish we have a saying, "El que mucho abarca poco aprieta", which culturally in English is "Don't bite off more than you can chew".

If you are going to learn Chinese, then make that your life's project. Go for depth and quality. If you plan to be an interpreter you will need every bit of it.


Thank you all Feb 24, 2008

These comments are very encouraging, I think living in my country would be a real benefit as there will never be a shortage of people to practice with. I am glad to hear there is a general shortage of Native english speakers with knowledge of Asian languages. Although many people speak English here, you can pretty much generalise that no westerners have knowledge of Mandarin, which does make sense i suppose. But to have a shortage the other way round, yes, i suppose that is much different from having English as a foreign language.

So do people generally agree that 2 asian languages would better compliment each other? Because of the symbolic nature of Japanese and Chinese, would that help me get a faster grasp of both as I'd be learning related concepts all the time as opposed to say, Germanic concepts? I'm guessing this because my partner can read the rough idea of Japanese newspaper headlines and subtitles etc without any knowledge of Japanese. It's amazing i find, that she can not understand one word aurally, but when it's down in writing she can make rough sense of it. Absolutely amazing. I find asian languages would really interest me and be so fun to learn.

[Edited at 2008-02-24 18:50]


Carol So  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:56
Member (2008)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Yes and No Feb 24, 2008

I think it would definitely easier to learn a second Asian language when you reach a certain professional level in one, mainly due to the similarities in the scripts. To be honest I dont think learning two at the same time would help, as it could be quite confusing sometime, but if you are passionate in Asian languages you can always develop your expertise in it.

I heard that Japanese is one of the most difficult languages for westerners, as it has very complicated and strict grammar, which is very different from Chinese or other languages. But it shares similar scripts/ characters as Chinese so you will still be in advantaged position to learn this language if you have learned some Chinese in the first place. I am a native Chinese and know nothing about Japanese, but it is not too difficult to guess the rough idea of some signs and names if they are written down. Chinese, on the other hand, has very simple grammar structure, no tenses, no genders for nouns, and verbs are always regular.

I agree with Henry that you should concentrate on one language at the moment, especially if it is Chinese. Expose yourself to the language, try living, studying or working in China for a period of time if it is allowed, and see how much you can take, and whether Chinese is really your passion. After you manage to use Chinese professionally learning another Asian language would not be a problem for you.


ok but considering uni... Feb 24, 2008

Really? I have heard the Japanese have organised and easy gramma, but it is Korean that has very complex gramma. I have heard Chinese is easy to read and write once the fundamentals are grasped and with the easiest gramma of the trio, but the speaking is hard. While were on the off topic- they say that you need 1800 characters (or something in the late thousand) to read 94% of newspaper articles and books properly, and the average Chinese person has a vocabulary of 3- 5 thousand characters. Auckland University here in New Zealand is in the top 30 in the world for the arts faculty and i have an acquaintance who took BA Chinese here- according to my partner, it was like they were almost a native!

Well the BA involves more paper than just learning chinese as you may know, so regardless of if the other papers are another language or not, i will have to devote time my other subject/s. Of course, with a major in chinese there is also the standard fixed chinese culture, history papers. But given that, doesn't it make sense to pursue something I want? Another language. I have about 2 months to decide which one. As i said, i'd be interested in German and Japanese, especially the latter. Any more views on this specific point of what to take with Chinese would be appreciated. The bottom line is, there is a major and minor or double major in the BA so why not make it a language? I do not immediately have anything i wish to pursue otherwise...

Thank you!

[Edited at 2008-02-25 01:14]

[Edited at 2008-02-25 01:16]


Stefan Hofmeister  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:56
Member (2008)
English to German
+ ...
Maybe I can help you... Feb 24, 2008

I studied both, Japanese and Chinese - but my Chinese skills are still somewhere far away from being that perfect to be able to translate from Chinese to German in a professional way. I concentrated on Japanese from the beginning. As others told you, Chinese language is easier to learn than Japanese. Well, the Chinese language is not that difficult, but don't forget the Hanzi (or Kanji), you'll have to learn a lot of them (for both languages!). Once there will be a day you don't want to see them anymore. And there will be a second and a third day and a fourth a.s.o., when you feel like this...Then there will be a day (after several years), when you think "wow! I know them all, now" - but don't worry, the day after you'll surely get disillusionedicon_wink.gif

I think it's better to concentrate on one Asian language - one of them ist hard enough to learn for us westerners. But it would help you to learn a second language as a sideline. You need not to be perfect in it, but you'll learn a lot about common asian ideas. Especially if you're not learning Chinese as your first language. Then you should learn some Chinese, just for a better understanding of Japanese, Korean etc. (culture and language), because translating those languages has a lot to do with cultural backgrounds, which came from China in many cases.

I hope, I could help you a little bit.

[Bearbeitet am 2008-02-24 22:37]

[Edited at 2008-02-25 11:21]


Angus Woo
Local time: 06:56
Chinese to English
+ ...
One language at a time Feb 25, 2008

Hanzi and Kanji are almost exactly the same, but they belong to two different languages. Before you reach certain fluency in one language, I think you will feel quite frustrated and puzzled if you begun to learn both of them at the same time. You would need to learn up to 3000 Chinese Hanzi (characters) before you can read any newspaper or story book. So it might take you years to memorized all those characters, mind you they are quite different from Roman alphabets.

The grammar for Chinese is also quite different from that of Japanese. Kanji is actually just some borrowed Chinese characters, but the pronunciation is different. In a word, it's entirely a different language, though they look very similar.

However, once you have managed Chinese, Kanji would seem rather easy to grasp, for they are almost exactly the same.

Therefore, like Stefan said, better concentrate on one language first.


zhao hong
English to Chinese
+ ...
two languages at one time, go ahead! Feb 27, 2008

It's a great ambition to learn two Asian languages at a time, but it's not impossible, depends on which languages you decide to take at one time. I think Chinese and Japanese is a very good choice, as you have mentioned, you have Chinese friend who had totally no idea about Japanese but she could read Japanese and get part of the idea. That's not hard to understand, Japanese borrowed most of Chinese words. As from my own experience, I’m a Chinese native, I got English BA, then I started to learn French, when I first started French, I found these two languages are so alike, even as a starter, I could read lots of French. there are some differences between two languages even though the words may be exactly the same, but you guess wont go too far away from it. My English knowledge really helped massively in regard to my French learning. right now, I’m also taking Spanish, while learning that, I always make comparison between these three languages, and I find it very interesting to do this and very helpful.
So, if you can take Chinese and Japanese at one time, you can find the benefit in that. It can be confusing lots of times, but when the confusion cleared, you learnt even more. Go ahead!


hey this is great feedback Feb 27, 2008

Excellent to read all this feedback.

On another note- is a post graduate certificate or diploma in interpreting a good move or what other options should i be considering after BA study?


Jack Qin  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:56
English to Chinese
+ ...
Agree Jun 18, 2008

There are some similarities between Chinese and Japanese. Therefore, mastering Chinese in the first place, and then pursue Japanese, which will be a smooth learning path. I speak that from experience for I learned Japanese for some time. However, it is easier for our Chinese to grasp Japanese.


Angus Woo wrote:

Therefore, like Stefan said, better concentrate on one language first.


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