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How to write Chinese essay/translate FROM English (serious)

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How to write Chinese essay/translate FROM English (serious)

Postby Jack Burton » 11 Sep 2010, 10:47

Chris' post was pretty hilarious, and translating from Chinese to English, I've certainly come across some pretty bad writing.

But I'm doing some translations TO Chinese from English, and having a much harder time. Some problems I find:

(1) it's harder to think of certain words in Chinese when looking at the English (then realize I do know the Chinese after all). The "doh" I know that word.

(2) It's a pain in the ass to rearrange the word/phrase order to fit the Chinese syntax of subordinate and adjectival/participle phrases preceding/modifying nouns. This just slows things down.

(3) I'm not quite as shumian; most of my writing ends up sounding kouyu

(4) I have a hard time thinking of Chinese patterns which should be used in place of English, so my sentences might not sound "Chinese".

(5) Of course, in translating anything, you always have to balance fidelity to translating word for word against readability and flow in the target language.

So, any recommendations to fasttrack (other than just "doing more")?

Any sentence patterns that you think comes up most frequently?

What are the most common mistakes you see/encounter when translating from English to Chinese?
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Re: How to write Chinese essay/translate FROM English (serio

Postby ironlady » 11 Sep 2010, 11:57

Why are you doing this?
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Re: How to write Chinese essay/translate FROM English (serio

Postby Jack Burton » 11 Sep 2010, 12:07

ironlady wrote:Why are you doing this?


work/learning in general
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Re: How to write Chinese essay/translate FROM English (serio

Postby Chris » 11 Sep 2010, 14:36

Jack Burton wrote:What are the most common mistakes you see/encounter when translating from English to Chinese?

I rarely translate into Chinese. But from my observations, the most common problems are:

a) Being overly literal, ending up with a forced "Engnese" feeling to the translated text.

b) Misunderstanding by the (native-speaking Chinese) translator of English slang, idioms and other turns of phrase not usually taught in school. (e.g. headline "Election is Ma's to lose" translated as "Ma to lose election")
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Re: How to write Chinese essay/translate FROM English (serio

Postby ironlady » 12 Sep 2010, 10:40

Well, there are two approaches, depending on whether it is for learning or for work. (It will be no surprise to those who know me that I do not recommend the latter. But this is a theoretical discussion.)

For learning: I would be systematic. First think about what sort of writing you want to do. Then find several examples of the same genre in Chinese. Read them. Identify any set phrases or words that seem to occur in multiple examples of that kind of writing. Think about the logical structure of the writing. Reduce the pieces of writing to an outline, and think about how many supprting ideas are added and where, and what sort of ideas they are.

After you have studied the genre, set yourself a topic and try to produce a piece of writing that is very, very similar to one of those pieces of writing. Get a native speaker to check the results. Keep track of your mechanical errors (wrong characters, typos, etc.) and your compositional errors (wrong sentence structure, wrong word choices, etc. as well as places where your informant feels that your writing is not native-like.

For work, hire a good professional translator. :D But if you insist on doing your own work into Chinese, the process I recommend wouod be the same as the above, just with far more practice iterations before you let anyone in your company see the results.
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Re: How to write Chinese essay/translate FROM English (serio

Postby Chris » 12 Sep 2010, 21:53

ironlady wrote:For work, hire a good professional translator. :D But if you insist on doing your own work into Chinese, the process I recommend wouod be the same as the above, just with far more practice iterations before you let anyone in your company see the results.

And I can't stress this enough: before you hand it in to the company, get a native speaker of Chinese to check it for you. This should be standard procedure when translating into a language that is not the translator's native language.
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Re: How to write Chinese essay/translate FROM English (serio

Postby ironlady » 13 Sep 2010, 02:40

Fron a work perspective, though, if you can read Chinese fluently, the best setup is to find a translator who is native in Chinese and have him do the work, then you proofread it closely for meaning. 99.999% of foreigners will never learn to write to a professional standard in Chinese, and if you are working as anything but a translator, I bet your company would rather have you spending your time to do your primary job rather than do a job that will take you twice as long as it should and yield results that are not even half as good as an inexperienced native speaking translator could produce.

You can easily kill any credibility you or your company has developed with one poor-quality offering. It is just not worth it. As a learning exercise, sure. If it is enjoyable, sure. But lots of people love to sing...most of them do not belong on stage. Keeping their talents in the shower is probably better for everyone concerned.
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Re: How to write Chinese essay/translate FROM English (serio

Postby John Yu » 22 Jan 2011, 23:34

ironlady wrote:I bet your company would rather have you spending your time to do your primary job rather than do a job that will take you twice as long as it should and yield results that are not even half as good as an inexperienced native speaking translator could produce.


It's so true...as a student of Chinese, I imagine that I would one day translate bidirectionally between English and Chinese, but after actually entering the industry I realized it made much more sense, was more professional, and earned more money to focus on translating into my native language.
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Re: How to write Chinese essay/translate FROM English (serio

Postby Hellstorm » 23 Jan 2011, 03:39

I wonder if there are people who e.g. write academic texts in Chinese? not translating, but writing in Chinese right away.
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Re: How to write Chinese essay/translate FROM English (serio

Postby tsukinodeynatsu » 23 Jan 2011, 18:15

I do, as I have to do it in my classes.

When I write an exam I think it comes out rather 'kouyu', but, given time (i.e. essays, reports), I can produce something roughly on par with a native speaker with average skills. I was paired up with a group of kids from the aerospace engineering department once to do a group assignment. I ended up correcting their Chinese and re-writing half of the assignment to make it readable, because their writing was AWFUL.

I figure it's just because seeing that I study Chinese Literature, I'm exposed to 'good' Chinese writing all the time - so while my own is nowhere near 'good', it's better than 'bad'.

A trick I use if I have writer's block, though, is to write something rambling and terrible in English. It has to be rambling, or you miss the 'circular logic' thing in Chinese. Then you start translating it loosely - changing words, adding in sentences when you get 'inspired' or catch a train of thought etc. It turns out OK.... I had one essay read out in class after doing this O.O;; (more for content than form, definitely, but still :D was very chuffed)
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