Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Japanese Place Names in Chinese

Quite some time ago, I was proofreading a Chinese technical document that had been translated into English. The translation was generally pretty good which was a real surprise.

I noticed that the translator had taken the names of some Japanese cities (which are normally written in Chinese characters anyway) and assumed they were cities in China. Chinese city names are usually translated just by writing the pinyin (alphabetic script) of the Chinese characters.

I only noticed because one of the listed cities was Osaka, and I am very familiar with that city in Chinese since I keep meaning to go there to work.

If I hadn't noticed Osaka I probably would also have approved of the other cities being translated just into the pinyin, luckily when I saw Osaka I did some searching and found that the other cities (towns) were also in Japan.

I guess the lesson there is to always do a search for place names, even if they look like they could be in China somewhere.

I also once worked with a terrible Taiwanese company (like most Taiwanese translation companies are). They had taken the names of some places in Argentina and just translated the names into Chinese pinyin. That's a different matter entirely.

Take care,

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas Holiday????

Well, one of the things about being a translator, is that you have to be good at foreign languages, which normally means living abroad.

By now, I'm already used to having no kind of christmas holiday, today I'm trying to tidy up my accounts, and I still had to go to work.

Luckily I guess I'll get most of Chinese New Year off though.

I've actually found there seems to be slightly more work around than usual at the moment, I guess because no one else wants to do it. It would be interesting to see how a years work works out per month, I think I'm pretty evenly distributed throughout the year.

Happy christmas,

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


I just translated a document which had questions of the form:

how much does it prevent you:

prevents a lot
prevents a little

In Chinese this is perfectly OK, but obviously it's not appropriate in English. I normally just add a subject to the verb, so for example something like: prevents me a lot.

But sometimes you don't get the initial line in the text, so you just get given:

prevents a lot
prevents a little

Here you've no idea whether it refers to me, him, her or whatever. So in this case I would either change the form to a noun: very preventative, quite preventative. Or perhaps use a similar verb which does not require an object.

This is something which experience is helping me deal with much quicker. I remember in the past I would look at things like this for ages before I thought of a solution!

Monday, 8 September 2008

Problems Reading Chinese

I just got back from a short trip to Thailand. Rather than risk loosing it, I decided to leave my laptop back at home. There are millions of internet cafes around Bangkok (by the way, if you do go, I recommend using the cafes outside Khao San or areas like that - in khao san you will pay way more than other areas).

Anyway a big problem always seems to be that different computer setups have different Chinese displays. So on some machines my Chinese emails appear as squiggles and on others they appear correctly.

The problems can range from the version and default settings of the internet explorer (which are easy enough to change manually - unless the machine uses a foreign interface in which case you won't be able to read the menu) to the operating system and installed fonts.

There are so many different factors that it's almost pot luck! What price unicode?

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Why Technical Translators Might Hate Vista

I can't speak for anyone else, but I strongly dislike windows vista. As a technical translator it is necessary for me to keep travelling and improving my language skills. In Taiwan, I decided I needed a new laptop so I bought a BENQ Joybook (a Taiwanese brand). The laptop came with the basic version of Vista.

So I take the laptop home, install everything, and try to change the language....

(yes I'm a Chinese to English translator but I prefer using the English interface)

...and what happens....error!

You can't change the language, you buy the machine in Taiwan, you have to use the Traditional Chinese interface.

It's totally unforgivable!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008


I've nearly been caught out twice when working with US based clients on dates. The US format for dates is month/day/year, whereas in the UK we use day/month/year.

Normally its not too much of a problem, but sometimes you just glance through and see that the first digit is a 9 for example and think, "OK it's the 8th today so they want to tomorrow".

In China they usually use year/month/day but often use the US format for English documentation. In HK they use the British format, and in Taiwan they use the US format or their own format.

The Taiwanese format starts with year 0 being the founding of the Republic of China (by Sun Yat-Sen). You have to subtract from the current year to get the Taiwanese year.

To solve the problem I always use the full written form for months "eg 2nd March 2006", and try to be extra careful when checking dates. Still I've almost been caught out twice.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

To PhD or not to PhD

I'm really keen at some point on doing a PhD. The problem is that the universities which offer PhDs in technical translation can be counted on the fingers of one hand. I would have to say that Imperial College (where I got my MSc) is probably the best available in the UK, but there's an interesting looking course at NYU. I don't fancy going through all the fuss of moving to the USA though.

There are lots of decent universities which offer degrees in translation (rather than technical translation). I guess in the UK Leeds, Swansea, Warwick, and Manchester would be good places. Obviously there is great range of courses out in Ireland (the Rio De Jeniro of localisation), but I'm not really sure I'd enjoy living in Dublin for 4 years. It would be frustrating to be in such familiar surroundings but being just a little too far away from my London based family and friends. Also I wouldn't be able to spend the time learning a foreign language.

Which makes some of the universities in Spain, France, and Germany look a good choice. At least I could be learning the language while I am there studying.

The other options are based in asia, mainly in HK (there are no PhD courses for FOREIGNERS in Taiwan yet). FJ Catholic university and Taishida both offer PhDs but not for "non-Taiwanese" which is both extremely annoying and borderline racist. Actually it's not for racist reasons but because of excessive paperwork, but it feels racist when you are getting turned away. I'd also add that neither of those universities have anything on their website saying "no whities" so I happily applied before being told! Grrrr!

Also I could move sideways into a more technical area. That's a a really attractive option, because I always enjoyed the technical side, and my working experience before translating was all technical. Cambridge offer a very attractive course (no doubt hard to get on), as do MIT (same again).

So I'm going to read very carefully through all the course information and apply for a few places for next year. If I get accepted I'll go, if not I won't have lost anything. Meanwhile I've got this year to keep translating and learning about the field, and hopefully the translation will be able to serve as my part time job if I start studying.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Translation Software

I personally think that Trados made by SDL (sdl.com) is the best translation technology available. I'm trying to get used to OmegaT, which is a freeware version of Trados with quite a growing support base, but I'm just too used to using Trados.

But for both I find the same problem: support for Chinese to English isn't great.

I spoke to a Taiwanese translator, and he explained that he couldn't use Trados because it doesn't support using a Chinese interface, and he is a Japanese to Chinese translator and thus doesn't speak English.

That's not a big problem for me, because I'm quite happy with the English interface.

Generally speaking Trados seems to be extremely buggy when used with Chinese source texts. In addition to crashing for no good reason whenever it wants to, certain versions of Multiterm are unable to read Chinese characters (unless your default language is set to Chinese), and the alignment tool is not very useful since a single Chinese sentence rarely corresponds to a single English sentence.

There would be a whole range of features that would be useful for a Chinese to English translation tool, and in future posts I will talk about them.

Again, the opportunities for creating good quality tools for Chinese to English technical translation are massive.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Chinese Sentences Being Over-long

I recently finished a translation of a guarantee handbook. As with documents of this type it was written in very polite, formal Chinese.

One problem which I find often comes up when translating things like that are sentences which literally translated would read as follows:

"if there are any problems with your vehicle, you should take your vehicle to the service centre immediately, so that they can look at your vehicle and make repairs, you should do this if there are any problems with your vehicle. "

That was my own made up example but it's pretty much what I often find.

Typically I would translate that sentence as something like the following:

"If there are any problems with your vehicle, please take it to the service centre immediately"

Unfortunately the project managers or clients always assume I'm being lazy and missing something, or that I've accidentally missed something, or that I'm just a scam artist.

I suppose it's because I was really moved by "Skopos" theory when I was doing my course. The skopos theory basically says that the information in the source text can be viewed as an offer of information, which I can choose to accept or not based on my knowledge of the target text and culture. Under that theory any target text would be a suitable translation, and comparing the texts side-by-side isn't necessarily a good way to judge the translation quality.

I find that the Skopos theory is just a great way to approach these kinds of translations, and frees me up from the "free versus literal" dichotomy.

I don't know what approach other people take towards these long sentences, but I'm beginning to find that Asian-based clients prefer to get something that they can compare phrase by phrase with the source text. I think it's quite sad because by doing that I believe they will always restrict the translator. European clients tend to be a lot more liberal, but perhaps that's because they don't have anyone who can check the source text!

I'll definitely write a lot more on this issue as it seems to be important, and I'm very interested in it!

Chinese to English Technical Translation Qualifications

It seems that the majority of Chinese to English translators aren't very well qualified. A quick search through websites such as proz.com or translatorscafe.com both reveal that probably around 90% of Chinese to English technical translators hold no formal translation qualification.

However, there are some very qualified individuals. The best qualified I could find was a lady on translatorscafe.com who had several masters degrees and a PhD in translation.

With my Masters Degree I find myself highly qualified as a Chinese to English technical translator. However, does the qualification justify the expense of taking the course? Does it produce enough extra work to pay for itself? That remains to be seen, but I would say that I am very pessimistic about it.


Thursday, 7 August 2008


One big problem doing Chinese to English is that there is a chronic lack of good quality resources. I read an article somewhere that said that the average Chinese to English dictionary is something like 15% accurate. That's a lot of bad terms.

One of my technical dictionaries had awful terms such as "unwatering" for "water extraction" and things like that.

Since we have to cope with these resources it's much harder to produce a decent translation. Don't even get me started on the accuracy of internet resources.

Last month I was given a job where the client supplied their own list of terminology and guess what - it was awful!

Having said that, this also seems to present an opportunity for making some useful tools and forming standards. A small company could never compete against Longman or Cobuild or any big dictionary companies like that, but for Chinese to English technical translation there still seems to be tonnes of space around.


Wednesday, 6 August 2008

A Common Terminology Problem

I just finished doing a very tough patent.

One thing that I find often comes up in patents is the term "分别 fenbie = seperate" in Chinese.

Image you have a document which wants to get across the idea: "pin 1 goes through hole 1, pin 2 goes through hole 2 and pin 3 goes through hole 3"

Now in English we would probably write something like "pin 1, 2, and 3 go through holes 1, 2, and 3 respectively"

In Chinese however, they will use the word "seperate". So literally translated it would say "pin 1, 2, and 3 separately go through holes 1, 2 and 3"

It's very common to read people using the term "separately" in English, but it's absolutely wrong! In English both the word and the word-order are different.


Tuesday, 5 August 2008



On this blog I'll try to talk about subjects relating to Chinese to English technical translation. I've got a lot of things to say on various aspects of the subject, and I'll try to keep updating at least once per week, hopefully 2 or 3 times.

I'm hoping that the process of writing the blogs will be useful for me, because having to write them will require me to take a critical look at my own thoughts.

I'll try to focus on a mixture of practical translation problems, problems with being a translator, ways to improve translation quality, get more work, work faster, and anything else.

I'll always be glad to talk to anyone who wants to drop me an email.