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Tomsima Interpreting blog

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A brief thought on interpreting and its effects on 語感



I will get round to writing part 2 of my write up of the university course: in the meantime heres a brief thought I ended up writing out in full. Would be interested to hear others thoughts:


Recently I have noticed I am stuttering a lot more when just regularly chatting to friends in Chinese; my brain appears to constantly be asking itself, 'is this really the most appropriate word?' Perhaps this is a result of moving back to the UK and being away from the total immersion of China, but I feel like its more likely a result of learning how to work between two languages when on the mic in interpreting situations...

Take the various concepts of 'collapse' in Chinese as an example. There's 垮, it denotes the idea of collapsing inwards on itself. then there's 崩潰, the idea of something or someone collapsing from the cause of not being able to bear a load. what about 瓦解, collapse due to internal disintegration, figuratively as well as literally, or even 塌縮, the idea of, say, a star collapsing inwards on itself to eventually become a black hole. All these different concepts of collapsing will almost always be translated into English simply as 'collapse'. Whilst this makes for very easy interpreting, it actually makes your Chinese worse, as you are constantly drawing together these distinct meanings into one basket named 'collapse', not allowing your brain to understand the finesse in their differences. What one is constantly striving towards in learning another language is to rewire the brain in order to divide and distinguish concepts that are different from one's mother tongue. Not only does learning the skill of interpreting not tolerate such rewiring, it actually bundles all the wires together in a big tangled mess. The brain is told to forget the small but important differences between words and instead group words into easy to manage target language categories. As a result, I find I question my word choice a lot more often than I once did. I find I can no longer simply rely on feeling, or make choices as easily simply based on a gut feeling.

So it would seem, while my Chinese has improved a lot in the last year, learning to interpret has perhaps had a negative effect on my "語感", or my ability to simply 'feel' what the right word should be. Hopefully this is just temporary.


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Very interesting... I guess you’re the only one in your class with Chinese as an L2, but are there any other students (or tutors) who can recognise this as a symptom, maybe of the rewiring that’s going on in your brain right now?



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I am the only one with Chinese as my L2; there is a similar course that runs in parallel with our course which is mainly business textual translation studies, in which there is an american student. Their course also occasionally holds mock business conferences, and when I have bumped into her, she has voiced similar problems with interpreting as what I've written here. That being said, my classmates mostly seem to have instinctive reactions based on context, and certainly dont let on that they have any issues in this area. I'm hoping that this will come to me with time.

Another example that came up in a speech today that was problematic: 'bunker'. Our first reaction upon seeing the topic of the speech ('national conscription') was '掩體' (the speech had key terms listed below the title, one of which was 'bunker'). Then later as we listened to the speech it became apparent that 'bunker' should be 避難所, as the speaker was looking at the usage of inner city bunkers that could be used in the event of nuclear war. But my classmates first reaction was actually ‘防空洞', again this could be 'bunker', but in the sense of 'air raid shelter'. All three terms going C>E direction go very nicely as 'bunker', but there is a lot of stress on the brain to retain the knowledge of why and where they are different. Going E>C as we were today, the same appears true: the more words you group into the meaning 'bunker', the more stress there is when sifting through choices on the spot. In order to make my E>C quicker I would list out only three meanings, and not add to this:

'ww2' > 掩體
'nuclear' > 核避難所
'air raid' > 防空洞

This means I can sift through and select the appropriate term really quickly. But at the cost of forgetting smaller details, and not allowing myself to add more words to the ’BUNKER' category in my memory, to reduce interpretation stress and increase speed.

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