Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Translation challenge, December 2014: Wrapping up

translationprogressLast month’s challenge on Hacking Chinese Challenges was about translation. I really like translation as a tool for learning, but since there already are two articles discussing this I won’t bring it up again (one about Chinese-English translation and one about English-Chinese translation). In this article, I will share some thought about the challenge and I also hope some of those who participated are willing to share their thoughts.

My translation challenge

I planned to spend 15 hours practising translation, but ended up spending about half that time. I don’t really blame having little time during the holidays (I actually had much more time than usual), but my planning was horrible. I had lots of time, but only for about a week and I simply wasn’t motivated enough to spend more than an hour a day or average. I should either have started earlier or set a more modest goal.

Below are some things I thought about during the challenge, but please note that I published a separate article about writing in Chinese, which contains much more than what I mention here (5 tips to help you improve your Chinese writing ability):

  1. Don’t aim for perfection too quickly – This is something I make myself guilty of sometimes and makes translation really tedious and boring. I spend a lot of time on each individual sentence, wanting to find the right way of phrasing it immediately. In my opinion, it’s better to get the gist first and then look for better translation the second time you go through the translation.
  2. Translate something really interesting – My goal for this challenge was to translate a short story I wrote in Swedish a few years ago, which is very motivating. I want to write this in Chinese! Compared with other translations I’ve done (professional and otherwise), this was much more fun. Once I got started, I really enjoyed translating and stopped only when I felt tired.
  3. Create the framework of a habit first – Before you have established a habit, you need to remind yourself what you’re supposed to do. I plain forgot about the challenge several days. It wasn’t that I thought about doing some translation and then found something more interesting to do, I just never thought about it at all. This is a sign of bad preparation. If you want to do something like this, set automatic reminders, make the document you’re working with open automatically when you log in, ally yourself with others who strive towards the same goal.

I think this challenge was interesting for me personally and I have continued translating the short story even after the challenge ended. This means that I have achieved part of my goal, which was to start writing in Chinese again. Give me a few weeks to finish the translation and polish it a bit and I might publish it somewhere.

Your translation challenge

How did it go for you? Looking at the leader board, five participants spent more than ten hours. Well done! Of course, this is not the same as the two passive challenges we’ve had before (listening and reading), because that requires a different kind of time altogether. What did you learn from the challenge? What did you translate and in what direction? If there was another translation challenge later, do you have any advice for new participants?

Upcoming challenge: Character challenge, January 2015

The next challenge will be announced later this week and it will be about character learning. It will be similar to the character challenges I’ve arranged for a few years now, i.e. focusing on how to learn characters in a more sensible way. If you want to read a bit in advance, I suggest that you check out these articles from previous challenges:

Sign up to this month’s character learning challenge by clicking here!

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  1. Steven Neubauer says:

    I really didn’t expect to do much on this challenge, but I’d been wanting to go on Viki.com and do some subtitling instead of just watching, so this gave me the incentive to do it. It turned out to be much easier than I thought – also more time consuming, though I tried my best to limit myself to no more than an hour at a time. I’d wanted to do this particular one – 杜拉拉升职记 – so my wife could watch it – she hates my attempts at U.N. style simultaneous translation.
    In a way it was too easy, I didn’t have to be perfectly accurate or try to capture the tone or mood because the actors were taking care of that, all I had to do was give a quick and dirty translation and the watcher/reader could easily figure out what’s going on despite my stilted prose.
    I really admire those who took part in the challenge and were translating real essays, short stories and such because they had a much more difficult task in matching the author’s tone and style. Though I had a high volume (28+hrs) I’m sure the quality of their output was much better.
    These challenges have really made me push my limits – the listening challenge forced me to confront my lack of practice in that skill, I was already reading an hour or so a day, but I’m doing more now, and this one finally pushed me to start subtitling. Thanks Olle!

    1. Olle Linge says:

      I wouldn’t worry too much about focusing on quantity instead of quality, I often think you learn more from the former simply because it isn’t as taxing and you can do it more. Obviously, you get more done because you translate more language per minute, but at least for me, I also spend more time overall because it’s not as demanding. Not sure if you feel like this too. I translated mostly things I’ve written myself, which is easier because I can be reasonably sure what I was after in the original and I can be more free in my translation than I would otherwise. 🙂

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