Subtitle Translation- Are You Really Ready for it?

Last week I was interpreting for a big racing car company’s technician training workshop. On day 4, we watched a technician-training video, the subtitle of which has been translated into Chinese. The subtitle translation made me angry. It seemed to me that the translator had not even mastered the most basic rule in subtitle translation–how many words you put in a line! In subtitle translation into Chinese, there is a fundamental rule of no more than 13 characters in one line. In exceptional situations where the sentences are really long and the actors talked really fast, you can have no more than 20 characters in one line.  If too long, break it into two lines of roughly even number of characters. This is for the comfort of reading for the audience–the length of 13 characters is the comfortable span for the eyes. However, in this video, we had to constantly look at subtitles of 30, even 40 characters in one line, and in the second line right below it, only one character was standing there, alone and lonely! It was frustrating and tiring. Many times I was not able to finish the sentence before the picture flashed into the next page. There were also places where the translation was a bit awkward–not natural to the Chinese way of speaking. Since each line only stays on the picture for just a couple of seconds, awkward sentences made it more difficult to read and understand. Also a few places where the division between lines or pages were funny, creating ambiguous sentences. I know the translation work was given to an agency....

Beckham’s New Tattoo

David Beckham revealed his new tattoo when he was visiting Beijing University. The new ink says “Life and death are determined by fate, rank and riches decreed by Heaven.” Despite it being a bit passive and fatalistic, does anyone else think the calligraphy work of it is rather average? At least the original phrase is Chinese, so he didn’t risk getting some wrong translation stamped on him. The more amusing part is probably when the picture is photo-shopped into famous Chinese slogans. This one says “To get fake ID or certificates done, call 136…..” Those kind of illegal advertisement you see everywhere in backstreets in China. This one is the ultimate icon put on buildings that’ll be destroyed by the government to make room for new apartment buildings. This character “destroy” in a circle became the witness of numerous forced demolitions. Popular slogan for the one-child policy. It says having a son or a daughter doesn’t make a...

Price Quote

I have been wanting to write this blog for a few weeks after reading an article by Judy Jenner. However, for the past few weeks, I have been rather busy with the Olympics and my interpreting work. Finally, after a few weeks’ procrastination, here it comes. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by someone who claimed to be from a publishing company in Czech about translating a tourist information booklet. Having just finished reading Judy’s article on creating professional price quotes to help avoid payment issues, I decided to create my formal price quote template and use it on this potential client. I emailed it to this client and asked for confirmation. She emailed back without confirmation, but said the job was an urgent one and they needed by what what time. Out of cautious, and to some extent, wanting to use the new price quote, I emailed again saying I wouldn’t start working on it until the price quote was signed and sent back to me. The client started sending weird emails commenting on how my name sounded beautiful, or what the food was like in China! Till then, it became obvious to me that the client was just fishing for free translators. Considering how my first price quote actually saved me from a scam, I would like to share with fellow translators elements that they can consider putting into their own price quotes. 1. Client’s name, address, phone number, etc. This is very important, legally speaking. Make sure you get the right address and verify it–seaching online or making enquiry phone calls. 2. Your own information....

Menu Translation

A few months ago, Xinran asked me to translate a famous Italian chef’s new book and sell his book to China. I felt like the Chinese market is not ready for Italian home recipe books (difficult to get hold of cooking ingredients, cooking utensils, etc). However, a job I got recently required me to translate a restaurant menu into Chinese. As a result, I am intrigued by recipe/menu translation and decide to look more into this area. Menu translation is a subtle balance between keeping the ‘flavour’ of the original text and making sense–assure the audience of what they are actually eating. Here are a few examples in my translation: 1. ‘Black pudding’. In the famous English breakfast. The translation could be ‘???’, or ‘???’, or ‘???’. I decided that ‘??’, for a Chinese person who doesn’t have English food often, can be rather confusing, as ?? in Chinese generally refer to creamy jelly. ‘??’, even though true and faithful to its name, can look a bit too much on the paper. So I used ‘???’ in the end, knowing that most Chinese people do eat things made of blood, and if told what is in this kind of ‘sausage’, it won’t be too off-putting. 2. ‘Tomato concassè’. It’s actually just ketchup. But if I simply say ketchup, the translation loses the fanciness of the French word. So my final version becomes ????? (French ketchup) ^_^ Another example would be ‘chutney’. If I explain what it is–???, it makes more sense, but loses the exotic and foreign flavour. So a combination of transliteration and translation solves the problem–??????? 3....

Interpreter ‘at War’

I watched the BBC documentary ‘Our War’ last Tuesday. It was footage taken with helmet cameras by soldiers fighting in Afghanistan against the Taliban. Very shocking and thought-provoking programme. Among other things, what particularly interested me was the mentioning of interpreters on the front line. The battalion in the programme was responsible for training the Afghan National Army (ANA). When coming into contact with the Taliban, one ANA fired without Positively Identifying the Enemy (PID) first and a little girl was shot. PID means when confronting with the enemy, the soldiers have to be absolutely sure that it’s the Taliban before they are allowed to fire a weapon. On the recording, the British soldier yelled ‘PID. PID first!’ And I was just wondering if I were the interpreter and needed to do it into, in my case, Chinese, how would I do it. Would I just stick to the English abbreviation? Or would I invent something in Chinese that’s equally short? I can imagine working as a military interpreter on the front line, the most important is to be quick and accurate. Note-taking? Absolutely not. Eye-contact and gesture? Probably unnecessary. I know there are military universities in China that provide interpreting and translating course. Anyone heard of such courses...

The Ultimate Outsider

Sam and I went to donate blood today. As a non-British citizen, I wasn’t sure if I’d be allowed to donate blood in the UK but was pleased to find out that I could. The funny part though, was when the nurse said to me really really slowly “as long as you can speak English and understand the consent form”, only to be surprised when I replied in fluent English. This just reminds me of when Sam and I travelled in China. Everyone——from shop keepers to taxi drivers–all presumed that I was a foreigner and didn’t understand Chinese. I was born, raised and educated in China, speak very standard mandarin (as my family members are from different regions and speak mandarin to each other instead of one regional dialect) and always got the highest marks in Chinese exams at school. Always seen as the foreigner: in the UK the foreigner who cannot speak English, and in China the foreigner who cannot speak Chinese. The ultimate outsider it is. Doomed to...