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UPDATED: August 13, 2014 NO. 2 JANUARY 10, 2013
Bridging Cultures

At the 30th anniversary of the Translators Association of China last December, Guo Xiaoyong, Executive Vice President of CIPG, pointed out that the country lacks professional translators. By the end of 2011, only 27,000 out of 640,000 Chinese translators had passed the China Accreditation Test for Translators and Interpreters (CATTI). How can we solve this problem?

Translation is not easy. Not only are we moving from one language to another, but also from one culture to the next. Knowing different languages, as opposed to having a sound understanding of what lies behind each, is not adequate for translation purposes. Few people pay attention to this important detail.

To improve the quality of translation in China, we need to start training candidates at university. Presently there are 158 local institutions offering master programs in translation and interpretation alongside more than 40 providing majors to undergraduate students.

Laws are needed to regulate translation services and stop companies setting up shop with inadequate funds and unqualified translators. In daily life, you need a license to practice medicine and one to drive a car. When it comes to translation, professionals must also be licensed. CATTI is designed for such a purpose and should be enshrined in law to guide the market.

The lack of qualified translators can also be attributed to the fact that translation services are cheap in China. Domestic publishers pay flat fees of less than 100 yuan ($16) for translating 1,000 English words into Mandarin. This is why many people undertake translation as a second job only. However, things in Australia are different because translators there are paid according to accreditation granted by NAATI (National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters). More advanced translator accreditation means higher income.

In the past, students picked up foreign languages at university and translation experience via work practice. For example, in my early years as a translator, I turned to my senior colleagues, who suggested which dictionaries to consult when I came across certain problems. What I know now is based on what I gained from experience in the field. For example, when translating from Chinese to English, Hong Kong names should be spelled out according to their pronunciation in Cantonese, not in Mandarin. With more universities offering translation courses, students could potentially master the basics of translation quite easily.

What have you learned from your translation experience?

I love translation. It has broadened my horizons. Even though I majored in English at university, translation opened unforeseen new doors to me.

However, the more I translate, the more difficult I find the process. Not only is it a word-for-word switch, but a bridge between cultures. Mistakes do creep in if you're not careful. For example, in the late 1980s and early 90s, late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (1904-97) put forward a foreign policy using eight Chinese characters, translated as "hide our capabilities and bide our time." This meaning implies that China would temporarily feign weakness before staging a comeback, which has caused much misunderstanding. In fact, what Deng truly meant was that China should keep a low profile in the international arena. It was an improper translation that triggered worldwide anxiety.

Microsoft invented simultaneous interpretation software that can switch English into Chinese or the other way around almost as well as an interpreter. Do you think it is possible for software to replace translators?

Software can translate language in a specific field such as medicine, law or engineering. However, there is certain content it cannot handle properly. For example, literary works prove to be tough due to rich allusions. Interpreters are still hired at important international conferences because translation software can make serious mistakes and cause misunderstanding.

Email us at: liuyunyun@bjreview.com

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