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Final Tomsima MA Interpreting blog entry!



This is my last entry for this blog now that my course has finished (for those asking how the second year is going, it is only a one-year MA at Bath). I’ve been meaning to update for a while, just not had the time to sit down and write. Anyway, here it is: last thoughts on exams, dissertation, outcomes and achievements and of course what the future holds:


Final exams


As said in previous blog entries, translation and interpretation are totally different in terms of the skillset and workload requirements, and the same was true during exams. I got fairly good marks in my translation exams, which took the form of two unseen English articles to be translated into Chinese, and vice versa. The content for the E-C was fairly technical stuff on windfarms and medicine, the C-E was a clinical trial and an art exhibition (I’m working on some pretty hazy memory tbh, it might have been slightly different, but roughly in these areas). In E-C the biggest challenge was trying to keep up pace with the writing speed of my Chinese classmates. I didn’t finish the exam as a result, I translated the first article in full, but only 80% of the second (bad exam tactic: I drafted my translation in Chinese then wrote out in full in clear kaishu…then ran out of time…yeah). The C-E was a different story, I finished the paper with an hour to spare and walked out just after the amazing Taiwanese/American guy, which was a massive feeling of accomplishment for me. The mark I got was better than I had hoped for too, so that was a big plus.


Interpretation was of course another story. Consecutive exams went okayish, I scraped through and got mediocre marks. My simultaneous exams all went terrible, I got so nervous I just froze up and stopped speaking in some of them, it really was awful. My marks were naturally very bad, surely the worst in the class I would imagine. Thankfully my average dragged me up overall, and all that really came of the experience was a harsh reminder that I am not able (nor do I ever hope to) do interpreting professionally. My own personal opinion is that interpreting really is for people who have lived in a bilingual environment for at least 10 years from a young age (starting from teen years at the very latest). I first started dabbling in Chinese when I was 20, and I think I am borderline. I believe I would be able to get to a professional level if I put in another 5-10 years from now (I am 31 as of writing). And I don’t really think I’m willing or able to give that time unfortunately.




I managed to make contact with a famous Taiwanese author and got the translation copyright for a final dissertation translation of a book on the history of Chinese calligraphy. It was an amazing project to work on, I learned a lot of in depth specialist knowledge, and has given me a lot of ideas for the future. I am very happy to say I got a distinction for the translation, and hope to get an English translation of the full book published at some point in the future.


The future


If I learned from my exams that interpreting wasn’t for me, I learned from my dissertation that translation…is! That being said, while the money is fairly decent, the way in which projects come at you randomly as a freelancer is not so much fun (sure many here can relate). As a result, I’m hoping to now go into education as a Chinese teacher here in the UK, with translation as a supporting income. The dissertation project has also thrown me in a new direction, with a current cooperative currently being set up with a group of fantastic artists and calligraphers I know from Hubei. I’m sure there will be more to come from this in the coming years too.


Final thoughts


For me – this was the hardest, most challenging year of my life. Regarding the change in my Chinese abilities over the last year:



-       Speaking has become a lot more formal and adult like, less ‘cute’ and childlike.

-       Writing has become a lot quicker and again more formal in style, less ‘wechatty’

-       Reading is rapid, I can now do sentence reading in 2-3 chunks rather than word by word now, and reading out loud with proper emphasis is much, much better now.



-       Listening has become more difficult, as my brain gets frustrated when I am not 100% about every single word, tone, sentence level implication, etc. Although this might be a good thing in the long run.

-       I hesitate and stutter a lot more when speaking, as I am so much more aware of when word order/grammar/word choice is slightly off during the mental preparation of a sentence. I have learned too many new words over the last year, and not absorbed deep enough – as a result it causes me to stop for recall quite a lot now.


If you are a native English speaker interested in doing a Chinese/English interpreting-translation qualification, I say be sure you know why you want to do the course. I was very clear that I wanted to do the course to see whether or not becoming an ‘English’ Chinese interpreter was possible for me or not. I found out it was not. But I met a few people along the way for whom it was, and that’s great! However, some people were doing the course to improve their language skills, and this kind of course will not necessarily do that – in fact it will require you to sacrifice language ability for codeswitching ability, particularly in the case of interpreting. Codeswitching is a skill that requires you to rewire the way in which your brain wants to access information – great for being ‘in the booth’, but not so much for playing mah-jong and general chitchat over some baijiu. I think quite a few students struggled to come to terms with the fact that they were being outperformed by students with worse English but better T/I skills.


But as long as you are clear what your goals are before you start, a course like this can only be an asset to your Chinese in the long term. It will weed out every single one of your weaknesses and cracks in your knowledge and remind you of them all day every day until you tackle them. Its been a painful medicine to take, but I certainly don't regret it at all.





Good luck to future translators and interpreters reading this!




Recommended Comments

Well done @Tomsima and thanks for posting your experiences along the way.


I appreciate your approach.. I'm always telling my own students that it's just as important to try something and learn that it's NOT what you want to do, as it is for the opposite. 


Looking forward to hearing where you go next!



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Looking forward to the 'Tomsima Chinese Teacher' blog.  Do you have any concrete plans for this?


I've met a few non-native Chinese teachers in the UK and they all had considerably lower levels of language experience than you do.  If you're thinking of teaching in schools, you'll have to find somewhere quite specialist unless you're OK teaching 12 year-olds how to say 你好吗.

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5 hours ago, somethingfunny said:

Looking forward to the 'Tomsima Chinese Teacher' blog.

Haha thats a great idea actually...would be very interesting to be able to give an insight into how teaching happens here in UK schools. I've already been to observe at a few independent schools in London, and the level is actually not that bad. But yes, I'm trying to get my foot in the door somewhere where a lot of emphasis is given to Chinese, perhaps some of the private schools that have set up branch schools in Mainland...we'll see.  I come from a background in teaching, so I'm quite excited about getting back in the classroom - even if its just to hear someone say 你好吗 with proper tones :)

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Thank you for sharing your experiences at Bath through this blog. It’s inspiring to read about people working with Chinese and English at such a high level! I wish you luck in your upcoming studies and future career.

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6 hours ago, Tomsima said:

I've already been to observe at a few independent schools in London


This was going to be my suggestion. It's unfortunate, but true, that languages aren't taken as seriously (by pupils) in state schools.  Perhaps you could help change that.

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11 hours ago, murrayjames said:

It’s inspiring to read about people working with Chinese and English at such a high level!


I really enjoyed following your one million characters journey, also very inspiring, not to mention your video interview a while back - hearing you talk about music was just another reminder how little of a language we really know once we venture out beyond the familiar

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10 hours ago, Tomsima said:

hearing you talk about music was just another reminder how little of a language we really know once we venture out beyond the familiar


Right. As we learn Chinese (and watch other people learn it), we deepen our awareness of how much we do not know.


Inspired as I am by your experiences, professional language interpretation and translation seem crazy to me. The work entails intentionally, repeatedly launching yourself into unfamiliar linguistic territory under strict deadlines. Why do that to yourself?


With language interpretation, when you fail, you fail in front of others and in real-time. That’s scary stuff. It reminds me of music performance, which also contains a risk of public failure. Maybe in language interpretation, as in music, your confidence in your skills and ability to perform grows over time.

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