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Learning Chinese through doing translation work

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Learning Chinese through doing translation work

Postby Milkybar_Kid » 18 Jun 2012, 22:35


I have read a few posts on here from people who say "doing Chinese translation is like getting paid to learn Chinese". Today I put this theory to the test and failed miserably.

I translated the first page of a university research report for a work colleague. Within this document were numerous new vocabulary terms and characters that I had to look up. However because I was always thinking about the end document - which was in English - I found that I didn't commit these new terms to memory. Therefore when I encountered them for a second time I had to go through the whole lookup process again.

Can doing Chinese to English really help to improve ones Chinese ability? If the output is all in English then I don't see how it can.
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Re: Learning Chinese through doing translation work

Postby ironlady » 18 Jun 2012, 23:28

Massive reading will, in the end, improve your language.

I took a year some time ago when I was disgusted with interpreting, and only translated. At the end of that year, when I picked up interpreting again, I found that my language skills had actually improved. I was reading Chinese four or more hours a day, though.

For reading to really improve your language in an optimal manner, though, it has to be at your level, which means (generally speaking) relatively few "unknowns". If you have mastered all the structure of the language, you can handle more unknowns without losing the thread of the argument (if there is one in a Chinese document -- hee hee :D ), but there are a couple of problems with extensive reading in Chinese helping people who aren't yet able to read fluently without looking much of anything up: not being a terrifically phonetic language in its writing system [I don't mean theoretically, I mean practically, for an L2 reader] it's virtually impossible to just "pick up" a new word even if you know its meaning from context, since the pronunciation is not obvious as would be the case in an alphabetic language; and much written Chinese is just that -- written Chinese. Not the sort of stuff that's commonly said in speech.

IMO, though, ALL reading is good. Some is better or easier, but it's all good, even a novice reader just experiencing Chinese text and picking out the three characters he can recognize.
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This post was recommended by ehophi (20 Jun 2012, 13:25)
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Re: Learning Chinese through doing translation work

Postby Teddoman » 19 Jun 2012, 00:34

The ideal strategy for challenging yourself in a learning-friendly way is to read material that is only slightly ahead of your actual level. Ironically, the fewer new words you encounter, the better. That was my experience. If you only encounter a handful of new words, you will remember those words far better than if half of the words in a document are new and you have to look up all of them.

I also think having a good strategy for remembering new words is important. Do you have a strategy for working new words into your daily routine? Do you find ways to use new words or encounter new words the week after you learn a new word? I think constant exposure soon after you learn a new word makes a huge difference to whether or not you remember it or not. Although some would say using the new word yourself doesn't make a difference, it can induce your conversation partner to use the same word, in which case you're receiving input that reinforces your memory of the new vocab. So it's still a good strategy.

If translation is way above your actual level, then you're probably not ready for using the translation strategy for learning. Even when I used the translation strategy for learning, I picked certain types of documents to get good at (legal and financial docs). So my vocab in this niche got pretty good, even though translating an academic paper on ancient Chinese literature would have been totally impossible for me.

Fyi, before translating legal documents, I audited a course in civil law at a university. So it does take time to gradually build up your ability level in a particular niche before most of the vocab is easily digestible.
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Re: Learning Chinese through doing translation work

Postby ehophi » 20 Jun 2012, 13:46

I think that one problem with independent reading is that almost no texts take the time to inform you of their difficulty level.

When I go Chinese book shopping nowadays, I count the number of unknown words in a given page at three random parts of the book. If it's above some tolerable lookup average (say, three or four words per page, with some regularity of the missed word throughout the chapter), I shelve it and look for something easier. I give annotated books more slack, because phonetic lookups are easier.

When it comes to harder reading online, I always use a highlighting dictionary for unknown terms. But don't use mouseover dictionaries, because they're a bigger annoyance than help. I downloaded Lingoes with the Vicon Chinese(T)-English and English-Chinese(T) dictionaries. The Vicon dictionaries, themselves, are slightly older versions of the Lingvo dictionaries, which you can see at (For some reason, Russians are really motivated lexicographers, and most good translation dictionary resources come from them or Oxford.).

I don't use, and in fact I openly despise the CC-Edict, but it's a passable secondary source for unknown terms. is POS-tagging the CC-Edict, however, and cutting its definitions down to size, so you could use that, too. (Don't use their teaching resources, though, since they want you to pay for features that are free elsewhere.)
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