Meet the translators of Tsinghua!

If globalization has made the world smaller, translation has certainly enabled people to overcome language barriers and connect despite their differences.

With technological advances and different electronic devices being readily available, translation has become easier and faster than ever before, raising the question of whether machine translations will eventually replace human translators.

But this has not discouraged students at Tsinghua from pursuing language studies and honing their translation skills. What brings them into translation? What do they think the future holds for them? Let’s find out what three Tsinghua students majoring in foreign language have to say:  

Liu Zichang was in her sophomore year when she attended a national interpretation competition held in her school as a volunteer. That was where, she says, she was captivated by the charm and brilliance of translation.

“I saw the contestants translating difficult materials accurately and fluently,” she said, describing how the experience made her more appreciative of translation as a special skill.

Later, Liu got involved in a Chinese translation project of “The World Heritage”, a famous documentary series produced by Japan’s Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) about world heritage sites. To be part of the project and work with professionals proficient in the Japanese language was a great learning experience, she said.

For Liu, translation is not just about translating word for word, but switching between languages and understanding different cultural mindsets to interpret as authentically as possible. She believes mulling over one’s work can offer a person insights and inspiration to move ahead, even more so when one has a vocation like translation which demands profound skills.

Yang’s experience as a Japanese interpreter was limited to informal occasions, until Shinji Tanimura, a renowned Japanese singer, visited China in 2018.

“That was the first time for me to be an interpreter for a famous person. I was very nervous and spent a week preparing as much as I could,” she said.

For Yang, interpretation is about reading with her ears. “I work as the intermediary between the speaker and the audience wherein I manufacture the input information in my mind into another language as quickly as I can and deliver the message to the audience as per the culture of the output language,” she elaborated.  

Yang does not think machines will ever replace human interpretation. "What distinguishes human interpreters from machines is their emotions. Instead of translating words just as an emotionless monologue, we get closer to the thoughts of the person whose words being translated and express the exact mood of him or her at the moment,” Yang said.

Bai strives to specialize in literary translation, particularly in poetry translation. She says her interest in poetry translation was sparked by a Monte’s painting she came across during her sophomore year.

“The painting reminded me of an ancient Chinese poem, and I wished I could share the joy that this beautiful poem brought me with my foreign friends,” she said.

In her opinion, poetry translation is not about a correspondence between words or accuracy of sentences, but about finding the most appropriate words that disseminate the exact emotion and mood captured by the original text.

Bai hopes that readers read the translated literary works more critically. “If people are critical of translated works, it will advance the social and cultural literacy level in general,” she said.

Writers: Zhang Liwen, Zhu Wenxi, Long Xinli

Editors: John Olbrich, Sangeet Sangroula, Liu Shutian


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