Learn Chinese in China
angeia

To be or not to be a Chinese Translator

244 posts in this topic

Hello everyone!

I'm hearing different things around the net about being a Chinese-English translator and interpreter and would love some input. I'm having anxiety attacks about my future and what kind of work I can find, so any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!

So a few questions:

Do translators have a high turnover rate if they are hired by a company?

Since there are so many English speaking Chinese citizens, is it difficult to find work as a professional translator?

Do freelance translators in Chinese-English make decent salary? Are clients willing to hire an American to do work?

Is it easy to be hired by a company/organization as a full-time Chinese-English translator and interpreter?

I passed HSK level 6 and will be starting a masters course in interpretation and translation in the fall, but it is a 2.5 year program and it is at a Chinese university so I want to make sure that this will have some worth or recognition if companies want to hire me either in America or locally.

I currently have a Japanese degree and speak fluent Japanese, so I have done interpreting and translation work in Japanese that has paid quite well. I know that the Japanese-English demand is much higher, but I'm unsure about Chinese.

I worked at a consulting firm in Shanghai as a Japanese Business Analyst and, while job hunting, realized the hard way that having language ability alone is not enough to find a high paying job in China. If I couldn't speak Japanese, then I would have been screwed in my job hunt in Shanghai. I know that without an additional "skill" to add to a language it is difficult to find a job.

So I'm worrying... should I proceed with my masters course to be a translator, or maybe aim for a different degree in another field?

I do love to translate and interpret and want to get better at it, but I would also like to have some kind of stable career... ;)

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

Are you asking about doing translation work in China or elsewhere?

If the former, it is very difficult.

As you say, there are many English speaking Chinese citizens.

Also, many organisations only want the appearance of English and the party secretary has a friend whose daughter once went to an English summer camp, so that will do. Or there are Chinese equivalents of Google translate and that will be even better. Much cheaper than a sensible translation, but who cares?

That's where all the "Chinglish" comes from.

Serious translation work is very difficult to find within China. For general translation work, I'd say pretty impossible. If you have some particular specialised translation experience and knowledge in an obscure field, then perhaps.But it would have to be very specialised.

I wouldn't suggest abandoning your masters course, but I'd ask you to consider if working in China as a translator or interpreter is a sensible career choice. I suspect not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think in your case you don't want to be looking at just doing Chinese-English work - look for something were you can use your Japanese as well. Look at the Japanese companies working in Dalian, for example - this, just as a rough indication that there might be something you could do.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Simultaneous interpreters make impressive daily rates - ones that are good enough for high level events can charge around 20,000 a day. Of course very few are good enough for that, and those events may not come often, but it is one skill that you may want to consider including in your studies...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

How about continuing as a Japanese translator? How old are you? That's pretty relevant when you are considering going to school for a career change, which is what you are doing.

What Chinese university are you considering? Are there enough competent teachers there to teach C-to-E translation?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@liuzhou

Wow, depressing response. Hopefully it's not as bleak as you make it sound!

@roddy

Thank you for the link! I actually love translating Japanese and don't plan on ever giving it up (even if I do finish the Chinese-English interpreting degree). I didn't study Japanese for 6 years for nothin, and I hope one day I can use all three languages... :)

@icebear

My major at the university is simultaneous conference interpreting. I know that it is EXTREMELY hard and there is no way I could ever hope to simultaneously interpret unless I took a course on it. But like you said, this kind of work is hard to come by and I just hope I'm making the right choice.

@gato

I'm 26, and the masters course that I'm doing is about 2.5 years. I've had 3 years of working experience, only one year being business-industry related. I'm scared I'll graduate at 28 and still be in the same boat where I left off--not being able to find a job due to lack of experience. I was working at a consulting company for a year in Shanghai, and about 50% of my duties was interpreting/translating Japanese. I did it on the side as well and found it pretty enjoyable, so I considered doing it full time. I would love to continue as a Japanese translator; however, I think I need more formal training and guidance to really get "the good jobs."

I love Chinese as well, but my Chinese is not as good as my Japanese. I was hoping the masters course would help with that and maybe teach me some overall translating advice that I could also apply to Japanese.

I'm going to 上海外国语大学 in Shanghai. While it is ranked as the #2 translation school in China, I'm a bit apprehensive. I met the professors and they are all working simultaneous interpreters that have connections with the UN, etc.. But when I went to the school they just seemed kind of... unorganized. They don't have a proper website and it's hard to find any information about the program--even in Chinese. I know all China universities are pretty 乱七八糟 but it's worrisome when I'm going dedicate 2.5 years of my life to a program that can't even tell me what courses they offer.

I got a full ride scholarship, so that's why I want to give it a try before I quit.

I know they have one western teacher that probably focuses on C-E, but I think most of it will be E-C.... it's a bit scary.

Do you think this degree would be recognized elsewhere? Because it's a language degree I figure it would have more value coming from China, but I'm not sure...

Thanks again!!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Wow, depressing response. Hopefully it's not as bleak as you make it sound!

Sorry to be depressing, but I do think it's a fairly accurate assessment, made after spending 16 years translating in China and seeing business decline as more and more Chinese people are able to do the job, or as people don't care about having things done properly. Fortunately, I have other strings to my bow, so I am still able to buy the odd bowl of noodles.

Nothing would make me happier than for you to tell me I was wrong.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I would love to continue as a Japanese translator; however, I think I need more formal training and guidance to really get "the good jobs."

If I were you, I would try to get more training in translating in Japanese, and focus on translating J-to-E, E-to-J, and C-to-J as a career direction.

There are fewer competent foreign language speakers in Japan than in China, but Japan's per capita income is much higher than China's. That suggests to me that the career opporuntity for translating for the Japanese market is much better.

I'm going to 上海外国语大学 in Shanghai. While it is ranked as the #2 translation school in China

That is a good school, but maybe you should try to contact and talk to some teachers in the program and sit in on some classes to see what it's like to be a student in the program.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, I would also certainly focus on the Japanese interpreting. Perhaps its a good idea to focus on that extra bit of training and guidance and try to get a good job in Japan.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@angeia

Nice write up, thanks for sharing your experience. Is there some way to link this to the SISU forum page for people who are interested in a first hand experience there?

Shanghai International Studies University

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sorry to hear about your bad experience, angeia. Unfortunately, teachers spending all their time out making money instead of teaching is rather common in China nowadays considering how little teaching pays. University teachers' salary is about the same as that of an entry-level office worker, about the same as that of a fresh college graduate. The incentives are all screwed up.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've put a link into the existing SISU topic. However, regarding: "It's a terrible school" - I'd be wary of reading across from one fairly atypical course to the rest of the school.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi guys, I changed the 'terrible school' part.

I don't know about the language program, other exchange students here say it's not bad, so I don't want to say the entire school is crap. I just found the interpreting/translation department to be very poorly organized and executed.

Thanks for your support guys! It wasn't the best experience, but I did make really good friends and I did realize just how hard it really is to become a simultaneous interpreter. I'll definitely become one someday, but I don't think I have the patience to go through 2.5 years at this establishment.

Again, thanks!!

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Can I ask what assessments you went through before being accepted? I did at one point years back look at the Beijing equivalent at UIBE, and have spoken to a couple of (Chinese) folk who've gone through the course. But it's a lot of time, very intense, and... well, I'm doing quite nicely as I am, thanks....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Funny stuff, angeia. Sounds like a blast, actually -- except for the classes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sounds like they have very little idea how to assess non-native-Chinese speakers for entry, and are a bit too keen to get foreigners onto the course. I wouldn't fancy doing it without a lot of hard speaking experience behind me - using Chinese constantly in a challenging work environment, something like that. A recent and crammed-for HSK 6 pass - kudos for doing your best, but I'm not too surprised it didn't end well.

Stick around and let us know what you get up to next though...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One of my classmates in the course has a Chinese degree from Cambridge, another one has been studying Chinese for over 10 years and has a masters degree in the language (we've all lived in China for quite some time). And we're all pretty much in the same boat when it comes to the difficulty. I guess the Chinese students are used to this kind of education..

Thanks for the support ;) Will definitely support this forum in the future!

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You said it yourself, they probably let you guys in for the sake of diversity, they are highly selective when accepting Chinese students.

At BLCU there is a similar Master's designed for non-native speakers of Chinese. I think this program focuses on interpreting from Chinese into other languages. I would be cautious when applying there as well, interpreting is serious business.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now