So, would you say you’re fluent? Upskilling your language skills as a Chinese-English translator and interpreter

As bilingual and multilingual young professionals, we often get roped into doing informal translation and interpreting tasks. Read on to find out how you can formalise your Chinese-English language skills as an accredited translator and interpreter in Australia, and why the industry needs you

AO China Article | Image 1 | So, Would You Say You’re Fluent? Upskilling Your Language Skills as a Chinese-English Translator and Interpreter | Darcy Moore
Sourced from flickr.com

Oh wow…Chinese? So, would you say you’re fluent? It is the single most redundant question we are so often required to answer. On the one hand, it reveals our interlocutors’ naivety regarding foreign language learning. On the other, it highlights the conundrum of proving to our monolingual contemporaries that, yes, we can speak and understand Chinese. 

Eventually, we arrive at a bit of a dead end in our Chinese language education and maintenance. Self-imposed tingli sessions, language corners and HSK VI refresher courses are just not doing it for us. Arguably, achieving competency in a foreign language is the sustained exploration of its never-ending historical and sociocultural layers. This is why bilingualism and multilingualism can only ever really be a life-long project.

Many of us won’t be able or willing to live in China for our whole lives. In between our extended stints in China, the feeling of limited exposure to the language can be extraordinarily debilitating. Searching for more ‘layers’ of Chinese language to explore when you’re not in China is challenging. The good news? There are plenty of layers to explore through pursuing formal study and training in Chinese-English translation and interpreting.

BING and the translation is done! Not quite…

Desperate for some extra free-flow beer cash, you may have stumbled across an odd translation job or two when you were a student in China. The clock ticking until your next ostensibly designated “Young Professionals Networking Evening,” you deploy the big guns; Google, Baidu and Youdao Translate. 

While professional translators do regularly employ translation technologies, they do so with a formally accredited bilingual competency to deal with the idiosyncratic discrepancies which invariably exist between two languages as well as a bicultural sensitivity to those historical and sociocultural layers obstructing common understanding. 

Perhaps the most frustrating task we Sinophiles face is translating – see what I did there – our Chinese language skills to an Australian workplace. Seeking out formal recognition within the Australian context for our Chinese language skills must then become a key focus. Obtaining qualifications through Australian institutions offering courses endorsed by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) is one way you can upskill your Chinese language skills. 

AO China Article | Image 2 | So, Would You Say You’re Fluent? Upskilling Your Language Skills as a Chinese-English Translator and Interpreter | Darcy Moore
Diploma, Advanced Diploma and Master of Translation and Interpreting (Chinese-English) courses are offered at many of Australia’s leading institutions including ANU, UniMelb and UNSW. Multiple intake periods are commonly offered
Image sourced from flickr.com

Taking the plunge: certification with NAATI

A Chinese-English exam with NAATI is not like sitting the HSK VI. You cannot simply register your test date, pay your fee and rock up after your six-week contribution of blood, sweat and tears to the cause of “Chinese language proficiency.” NAATI will only allow you to sit their exams once you have completed the required training for that qualification. This almost always means completing at least a diploma or advanced diploma at a NAATI-endorsed qualification institution.  

Studying Chinese-English translation and interpreting at an Australian institution is an intense undertaking. As a current Master of Translation and Interpreting student at the University of Melbourne, I have found that strictly adhering to the course’s recommended ‘total time commitment’ is a must. If you are engaged in ongoing part-time or full-time work, you will need to make the diploma, advanced diploma or masters your main side-project for the next 6, 12 and 18-24 months respectively. Generally speaking, NAATI will only allow you to apply to sit a certification exam once you have completed a sizeable chunk (if not the entire course) of your qualification. Allow for an extra 2-6 months following your diploma to secure a date at your nearest NAATI test centre.  

The intensity of studying Chinese-English translation is not simply down to time commitment. Very few domestic students undertake Chinese-English translation courses. The vast majority of your classmates will be Chinese international students and professionals living in Australia. This means that you will be engaging with Chinese who possess an incredibly in-depth knowledge of their own language, so you will need to employ a ‘near-native competency’ of Chinese in order to keep up. 

Formal recognition for a skill you worked bloody hard at      

Oh wow…Chinese? So, would you say you’re fluent? This time, you’re armed with proofWell, it’s difficult to define ‘fluency’ as a second language speaker, but I’m NAATI-certified. Finally, you have managed to answer that dreadful question in a HR-acceptable way. Right…What’s NAATI? God, we can never win!  

A formal qualification in translation and interpreting is not entirely utilitarian. Yes, it provides you with extra (and at times very lucrative) work with your current employer or as a separate part-time engagement. And yes, NAATI aside from its accreditation role, also functions as an association for professional translators and interpreters, connecting you to clients with whom you can engage fully online most of the time (an important post-2020 workplace development and one translation is well suited to). 

Utilitarianism aside, the Chinese-English industry needs more of us non-Chinese background slackers to contribute to the immensely important service translators and interpreters provide our culturally and linguistically diverse communities on a daily basis. A cursory glance at certified Chinese-English translators and interpreters listed on the NAATI website shows us that it is Chinese Australians and native Chinese doing all the hard yards. Moving between two different languages and systems of thought is a deeply collaborative exercise. Each and every one of us brings to the table a unique lived experience of the Chinese and English languages. These lived experiences are needed to deepen our engagement with those living in our communities who may not be able to access both languages.

Moving between two different languages and systems of thought is a deeply collaborative exercise. Each and every one of us brings to the table a unique lived experience of the Chinese and English languages. These lived experiences are needed to deepen our engagement with those living in our communities who may not be able to access both languages.

AO China Article | Image 3 | So, Would You Say You’re Fluent? Upskilling Your Language Skills as a Chinese-English Translator and Interpreter | Darcy Moore
Miscommunication during Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdown caused untold stress and misery for our culturally and linguistically diverse neighbours
Image sourced from flickr.com

If you’re feeling a little turned off by the time commitment involved with upskilling as a translator or interpreter, reflect on the time it took you to reach your current level of Chinese language. It’s a no brainer, right? You owe it to yourself to continue to find ways to maintain and upskill your Chinese language skills within a formal Australian context. 

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Darcy Moore

After more than five years in China, Darcy has returned to Melbourne, Australia. His time in Sichuan Province, Beijing and Guangzhou have left him with a single pressing question: How in the blazes do we sustain our engagement with China? In exploring this question, Darcy seeks to introduce fellow Australians to the practicalities, challenges and little triumphs which make engaging with China entirely worthwhile.

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