A long way from bridging the language gap
China needs more qualified translators and interpreters as it opens its gates wider to the world, especially driven by the Belt and the Road Initiative.
But, though the numbers have been growing in recent years, the quality is not up to scratch.
“China’s economic growth has drawn the world’s attention to our ethics and values. They want to know China’s stand on things, to see China’s image and to hear China’s voice,” says Zhou Mingwei, president of the China Academy of Translation.
He was speaking recently at the International Forum on Translators and Interpreters Education 2015.
“In communication with other countries, we need to have our own discourse which is built on proper translation and interpretation,” he says, “so translators and interpreters are increasingly important these days”.
Meanwhile, the volume of China’s communication with the outside world has reached an unprecedented level.
Xu Hui, deputy directorgeneral of the Department of Translation and Interpretation under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says that so far this year the workload for the department was double that in 2014 due to increasing diplomatic exchanges.
Lin Huifang, deputy director general of the Center for International Cooperation and Service under the Ministry of Agriculture, says that the center’s translation workload this year is three times that of 2005.
Language professionals, especially interpreters are considered very valuable these days, and more language students are taking this route.
China began offering a Master of Translation and Interpretation (MTI) degree in 2007.
In 2014, the number of graduates of English MTI had jumped to 13,800 from 8,000 the previous year. Industry sources forecast that by 2017, there will be 38,000 English MTI graduates.
However, employers complain that there are still not enough interpreters and translatorswhoare qualified for the jobs on offer.
According to a student’s research paper, 95 percent of MTI graduates have not done serious internships, says Liu Heping, director of the Institute of Translation Studies at Beijing Language and Culture University.
Without a good command of English, how can you be a qualified interpreter or translator?”
“Experience is very important for interpreters and translators. When the UN recruited interpreters and translators in 2013, none of the 10 interpreters was a graduate,” he says
Besides lacking practice, the quality of MTI students is another problem.
Wen Xiaolong, a freelancer, whohas been working as an interpreter for more than 10 years, says: “I think one of the most important qualities for a interpreter or translator is language skills.”.
Ping Hong, secretary-general of China National Committee for MTI Education, says that nowadays only 40 percent of English majors can pass the Test for English Majors Level 4, and only 30 percent can pass the Level 8.
“Without a good command of English, how can you be a qualified interpreter or translator?” he asks.
Other problems include a shortage of qualified teachers and a problematic teacher evaluation system.
Zhang Ailing, professor at Shanghai International StudiesUniversity, says: “Teachers are too busy teaching or writing papers, so they don’t have time to do interpretation or translation. Without experience, it’s impossible to teach MTIs. But the current evaluation system for teachers is still papers, which is not reasonable.”
On a separate issue, Liu says that to better train graduates for jobs in companies like Huawei, the major should combine education with the specific industry.
“For example, once we were asked to do interpretation for an international medicine conference. There wesawthat there weremany medical terms ... . It was too technical for us,” says Liu.
“It’s impossible to know everything. So we asked them if they had doctors whose English was good, and we trained them to do interpretation. They did it successfully,” says Liu.
“This shows that we can cooperate.”