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Translating smoothly from Chinese to English

By Binyao Wei

Based on my own professional experience, I find it relatively easy to correctly translate the original text into the target language. However, I found that, when I was beginning my career, it was difficult to produce smooth work.

Below are some summarized tips to mitigate this difficulty. I hope this helps in your work!

1. Correct it before improving it

Correct translation may not be smooth, but smooth translation must be correct. I strongly recommend that every word contained in the work should be examined carefully. This includes any error, any incorrect word selection, any grammar mistake etc. It is important to remember that accuracy is always the most important rule in translating.

2. Dig it deeper

Chinese grammar is quite flexible, ‘grammar tense’ is typically reflected through ‘adverbial’ or ‘auxiliary verbs’. In my opinion, Chinese is made up of different vocabulary arrays to show its meaning, which is different from English. English is expressed through changes of verbs.

For example, 我该去学习了。‘了’ normally implies past tense. However, the appropriate translation is ‘I should go to study’, which is obviously future tense. Thus, I would say Chinese grammar does not have a ‘tense’, but an ‘aspect’.

Aspect can be simply understood as a reflection of the status of the discussed contents, the meaning of which cannot be simply grasped from one or two words. ‘Tense’ implies the timing of the discussed contents to differentiate the past from future tenses, based on the current time.

3. Reorganise the structure

The language structures of Chinese and English are quite different. Chinese has a shorter sentence structure, while English sentenced tend to be longer.

Meaning in Chinese is expressed directly through words and short sentences that combine these words. However, in English, as long as the sentence structure is free from errors, various sentences can be integrated into a longer one.

For example: 因为贫困,又缺乏有经验的老师,住在农村的孩子几乎没有读过大学,而这个问题由于通讯工具落后,显得日益严重。

When translating this sentence, it is useful to consider English conjunctions, propositions, infinitive verbs and participles. The English translation of the sentence, using one full stop is as follows -

The issue of those children living in rural areas barely go to university due to poverty and lack of experienced teachers is increasingly worsened by the disadvantaged information media.

Moreover, active voice is preferred in Chinese, whilst English tends to adopt the passive voice. Some typical examples of English passive voice include, ‘as can be seen from the fact…’, ‘it is commonly acknowledged that…’, etc. Common structures like these can be considered to enhance the fluency of the translation.

I hope that these tips are quite useful for translation beginners to improve the work. It is a long way to produce smooth translation, but a good beginning is always the best.

Binyao Wei is a professional Chinese to English and English to Chinese translator. He gained his NAATI accreditation in 2015 and has since translated over 60 000 words. Translating is a passion for Binyao who hopes to use his skills in other professions.