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angeia

To be or not to be a Chinese Translator

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angeia

Hi Heifeng,

Thanks for your words and advice, it has helped me think a lot.

You're right, the best US institution for interpretation is the Monterey Institute which costs about 50,000 USD a year including tuition and room&board (so that's about 100,000 USD for 2 years). Of course, that's ridiculous, but I'm hoping against hope I can get a scholarship or save up some money before heading there and cut that tuition cost down a little bit.

The reason I'd rather pay to go to school rather than get paid by China to go to school here is simply due to quality over quantity. Monterey Institute has programs that are 1.5 years where 2 languages an be studied at once, whereas SISU is 2.5 years and focuses only on English/Chinese. Plus, it's 2.5 years of having 3 classes a week at 2 hours, which is 6 hours a week and taught 90% by Ph.D students that don't even want to look at your face. The rest of your time is supposed to be used for self study, but without guidance from the teachers, textbooks, or really any type of advising at all it's kind of hard to know what needs to be studied (I randomly interpreted white house speeches concerning US China relations for hours at a time on my own, only to go to class and have to do interpreting on banking or some other random industry).

And call me spoiled, but I like having structure. I like knowing when the semester starts and finishes, I like to have a curriculum, and I like to have a real professor come into the classroom at least once a week with a prepared lesson. I thought about going through 2 years of what I just went through last semester, and it was something that I personally couldn't do without being absolutely miserable.

I picked interpretation because I have done extensive translation in Japanese for many years and also did Japanese interpreting for my job. I really enjoyed interpreting, but to do it at a more professional level (ie consecutive or simultaneous) I knew I needed professional guidance or some real classes to teach me the technique of it (as well as learn specialized vocabulary that goes far and beyond JLPT 1 or HSK 6). You can say I'm stupid because I picked CHINESE, a language I studied for 2 years, and not Japanese (6 years of study), but when the school let me in and I got the scholarship I thought it was meant to be and I could 努力.

I was a bit ambitious and thought I could study Chinese and Japanese at the same time, but instead got my @ss handed to me on a daily basis. To be fair, I kept up and did just as well as the other foreigners that had degrees or 10+ years of Chinese study in our class, but I was frustrated more than anything with the institution. Before entering the school I also asked the professors if I could study Japanese interperting at SISU (since it is a foreign language school...) and they said "absolutely!" Imagine my surprise when they have no Japanese translation classes and the Japanese ph.D classes were a bunch of old Chinese men rambling about nonesense (in Chinese).

FYI, In the US it is also very cut throat and competitive (you WILL probably run into/know the qualified interpreters or at least via a few degrees of separation w/in your state) AND many of the mandarin interpreters are also going to be Chinese native speakers as well. In fact they may have gone through the very educational system in China you are referring and then have had X number of years in the US too.

You are absolutely right. But I think it's 10x more competitive in China to find Chinese and English interpreting jobs (even at an in-house level, not just talking about UN or EU). I have a Japanese/Chinese simultaenous interpreter friend that told me most of the elite interpreters form their own little communities and circles and breaking into those either requires 1. mad crazy skills or 2. connections. So I think getting good requires more than a masters degree from SISU.

Anyway, I think it's great you provided a write up & are interested in the field of interpreting. I also think that you may not have fully known what you were getting into at the time. HOWEVER, if you you want to fully leverage your scholarship, and work with the resources available to you in your present environment, perhaps you can still get closer to your ultimate goal (and on CSC's buck). Is the scholarship transferable by chance to a different school in China?

CSC cannot be transferred. But I hope someone more deserving than me can receive my scholarship and work hard in China.

I will keep pursuing work in the field of interpreting, but one very important lesson I learned through SISU is that I studied Japanese for 7 years and should make it my main "B language"--not Chinese. I still think I have SO MUCH to learn in terms of interpreting (both Japanese and Chinese) since it is an extremely difficult field of work, but staying at SISU would induce suicidal thoughts. I think SISU would give me a masters degree after 2 years whether I could interpret or not, but if I learn nothing within those 2 years and have an interpreting degree without being able to interpret--then what's the point? With 6 hours of class a week, no structure, no guidance, and no real value on whether this would be worth the 2.5 years it takes to complete, I was very lost and torn. If I were 22 and finished this program at 25, then no problem, but I don't want to graduate at 29, look back, and realize that because of my inability to cope with this strange educational environment I wasted 2.5 years of my life and have no work experience on the verge of 30 (just because it was free).

Also, two foreign alumni that graduated from SISU Masters of Interpreting are barely scraping by on freelance jobs in Shanghai and making less than half the rate I got on Japanese projects. If that was going to be what awaited me after this degree, then--no thanks.

I just got hired as a fulltime J-E interpreter and will gain experience through the workfield and hopefully save up some money to go to a US institution. Most students at the Monterey Institute also have a number of years of interpreting experience before starting their studies, so I would like to get some experience under my belt before the 'next step,' so to speak.

Anyway, sorry I wrote a novel's worth of rambling! And thank you for the advice!!

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gato

By the way, do you really need to go to school to interpret at a professional level? I would think vocabulary and speed were the key, and they can be improved with practice, whether in or outside of school. I have done some interpretation for work, without taking any classes, and it doesn't seem too hard if you've got the underlying language skills. I am at native level in English and Chinese, for what it's worth.

What I'm getting at is: does the OP really the schooling if she can already get a professional interpreter / translator job?

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icebear

@gato My understanding is yes, if you want to do interpreting in the big leagues (gov/UN/mega conferences etc) then you need to have that sort of qualification. My observations are based on:

a) Working in firms that hired interpreters and some of the basic "filtering" criteria they used (only a strapped firm would go with someone with no credentials)

b) One friend that pursued this field of study, and also gave up after 6 months - its very demanding on those that speak both English and Chinese at a native level.

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gato

It's demanding, but what does one gain by the schooling that one can't do through on-the-job as well as off-the-job practice (aside from the degree)? Is this something that you can really learn through classes?

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angeia

I think it really dependson the person. I know people that have become simultaneous interpreters without the training (they have lived in B language country for over 20 years, though), and then there are some that just vastly improve through training in a matter of 2-3 years.

I think the schooling creates real life situations that help you deal and cope with the pressure. Simultaenous conferences (esp for UN and EU) don't really tolerate huge mess ups or someone that collapses under pressure, so dealing with it through intense training helps build 'thick skin,' so to speak.

Also, proper schools will prepare courses for specialized industry interpreting (technology, medicine, law, etc..), since translators/interpreters are in high-demand in those fields.

I also want to empahsize: I didn't quit because the program was too hard. I quit because the Chinese education system and I do not see eye to eye and I lacked the patience to deal with it. Spending only 6 hours a week in class with remainder of the time spent randomly studying Chinese was not how I imagined this program was going to be. This school also didn't have classes in law, medicine, technology etc--which was one of the main appeals for me to pursue this degree.

Basically, whether I'm at this school or working the result is the same: I'm teaching myself (since the classes were near useless). I'd rather make money, get practice while working and do self-training in my free time than go to SISU and do the exact same thing minus the money and hands-on practice.

So, school is necessary if you want to interpret for the big leagues. I think a professional education is unnecessary if you're doing in-house interpreting for a company and you're just helping two parties communicate (and you speak A+B language pretty well). If you want to simultaneously interpret Obama's state of the union address to all of China--then yes, training from a masters of interpretation would definitely help with that.

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roddy

The EMCI might also be worth a look.

I wouldn't fancy trying to build up conference interpretation experience as an unqualified interpreter. I suspect you'd end up working for incompetent cheapskates a lot of the time. This is a field (not unlike law, Gato ;-) ) where qualifications and accreditations go a long way.

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angeia

Hi this is random and I probably shouldn't even post it in here, but I'm just wondering...

If I give up the CSC Scholarship do I have to pay back the tuition or anything?

I imagine not, but...

Anyway, thanks!

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tooironic

This may seem slightly off-topic, but have you considered working in the community interpreting field? I can't speak for other countries, but in Australia there is huge demand for Mandarin interpreters working in the community - in healthcare, police and courts, social welfare, business, education, etc. The pay is not amazing, of course, but the work can be very interesting, and no where near as stressful as conference level interpreting.

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angeia

Wow, I just want to say your blog is amazing!

And yes, I've considered community interpreting and freelance interpreting. I'd like to do that more when I'm back in my home country of the US, since in China the rate for freelance is really low (unless you're a conference interpreter). So...

You're amazing, btw! I will def keep up with your blog!

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brucehuang

Hey Angeia,

Appearntly, I should've read about your post like a few month back. I am on the EXACT same program. MTI with focuse in Simultaneous Interpretation focus. I was borned and rasied in mainland China up until I was 11. Then my family moved to the United States. I spent years learning Chinese back. I am currently an "International Student" so to speak, studying MTI at SISU. Both my Chinese and English are at native levels (well, almost, but really, nobody can tell the difference if they are not native). I am almost at the same boat as you, I am 25 this year and after the program I will be close to 30. I am reporting to SISU in about 3 days and I would really like to get in touch with you since you've just left and see how are things changing at the department.

(PS, When I took the test it was slightly bit different than what you went through, yes written translation exam and oral consecutive interpreting. But the order was reversed. Also I took it entirely online, they frist emailed me an exam and like you said, unannounced and given about 24 hours to complete, and then I was given a time to do the oral part on Skype since I am physically in the United States.)

I've almost grown up in the US (I was educated in the US from middle school til college graduate), except I visit China very often during summer breaks. I cannot say that I am entirely used to this Chinese strange system, but as compared to you, I am more familar with this country than "laowai" so to speak. Sometimes I refer myself as Chinese, sometimes I refer myself as American. I guess I will always be stuck in the exact half.

I am sorry to hear that you've decided to drop the program. I've also considered Monterey Institute of International Studies, but what held me back was the tuition cost. Same as you, I also received full scholarship (kinda comes in handy when I am still paying off my undergraduate student loans). A Masters that pays itself really isn't a deal I can resist, it may suck while you are at it but trust me, this degree is worth the time. Of crous the CERTIFICATE is even more important. the AIIC member's endorsement will gurantee you a job or at least an internship at the UN or EU. (PS, most of the professiors at GIIT SISU are AIIC members who are active interpreters at the UN). Also half of me considers myself as Chinese so I really feel it at home in both the states and China. I wouldn't mind staying in Shanghai for 2.5 years. Besides studying like crazy, I also have the oppertunity to explore one of the world's economy center which comes with endless oppertunities. If you know the country well enough, you should be able to make money while you are studying here.

PS, please feel free to email me when you see this post, I don't know how long it will be but I am sure we would like to chat with each other :D

[email protected] (that is also my facebook)

Anyways, I hope my suggestions will have some kind of effect on your decision; weather if you have already made it or not, maybe you will change your mind someday. What you steped out of was a feild where people refer to as "gold collar". Very rare chance for local Chinese to be selected in attending SISU's MTI program. I hope you would reconsider your options.

Best wishs,

Bruce Huang

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brucehuang

@angeia

One misjudgement you made about the high end interpreting field is that you will need to find stable jobs after your step in. Yes, I understand the starting part of this career can be very frustrating and most of the time, clueless. But, you forgot the fundamentals of the word "high end". Yes, being a freelance interpreter sucks balls, but think about it logically, all thouse fancy jobs that pays 100k+ per event don't come often, but it sure as hell dose come once in a while. But really, how much time do you put in? A week? TOPS 6 hours a day. You could totally do something else on the side to boost your income (I'm sure a white face with MTI degree in China would give you a lot more chances in landing a high paying English teaching job).

THE most important thing that you forgot about this industry is that IF you step into the high end filed, (which is MONOPOLY industry by you and your classmates). You WILL meet big dogs such as important political decision makers, CEOs of big companies and etc. THAT is your way of connection. Most of them high end interperters don't end up doing it for the rest of their life. As you may already be aware, we can only stay in this industry til no later than or 40s. It is a oppertunity hole where you can make something out of it while you are in. And as you mentioned, if you are good at it, you will gain reputation, where all the 100k+ projects comes more often once you demostrate your abilities to the market, after all this is a very small network. You get what you invest in.

Best wishes,

Bruce Huang

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brucehuang

By the way, the other BEST school in China for this field is BFSU (Beijing Foreign Studies University), BLCU is nowhere as close as SISU and BFSU...

TRUST ME ON THAT

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brucehuang

@ angeia,

Also, I don't know how much research you did before going into this field or how far have you gotten. I spent about 2 solid month doing pure research on what this field is like, getting to know the market and ranking informaiton for training facilities. Lucky I, my mentor whom I highly respect at my undergraduate studies in the US, was a top simultaneous interpreter who had also worked in the UN years before becoming a professor. He and I had worked closely togather prior to my entrance exam in preparing myself to adjust to the pressure enviroment of this field. After reading your privous posts, I honestly don't know how I will do after school starts in a few days. From my understanding based on my entrance exam, Chinese universities are almost not designed to change a potential candidate but to selectect the best few from a candidate pool and further enhance their abilities.

I don't know if you have ever thought about it this way; the unannounced written test, the sudden notification of oral test and the difficult level is all part of testing your reactions to a pressured enviroment. In real life, there are no yelling back at people for being "not polite", you don't get to redo anything you've said, what's done is done, so if you screw it, you screw it. That's the kind of mentality you should walk in with into this program, and then hope you will make it out alright. Maybe you just haven't done the proper prepare before walking in.

I am not sure how are you doing nowadays, since my replies are in such later days. I hope everything is doing alright with you and you would pick up some other day.

Best wishs,

Bruce Huang

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angeia

Wow, it’s amazing to find another interpreter on here, especially one that is, literally, half American and half Chinese.

For the most part, I agree with you. Simultaneous interpreting is a rough, tough world that I probably wasn’t ready for. But the fact of the matter is: The school let me in. Maybe the school knew that I wasn’t ready, but they wanted more English native speakers and had me join.

So, did you start yet? Sounds like you just got recruited. I think you’re going to be in for a fun ride, but since you’re probably more accustomed to the Chinese education than I am, I think it won’t be as much as a shock for you. And from what you just told me, you said you received guidance from a UN/interpreting professional in the USA? I think you should be more prepared than I was.

You said, “From my understanding based on my entrance exam, Chinese universities are almost not designed to change a potential candidate but to select the best few from a candidate pool and further enhance their abilities.”

That is absolutely true. At SISU, no one gives a shit about you. Seriously. If you woo and wow them, maybe they’ll give you a chance, but basically they want to kill out all the ‘weeds’ so to speak and pick out the best crops to go to the CI program (only one girl out of 30 got picked this last semester, so… prepare yourself for that. If you don’t get a CI certification then this degree is, essentially, useless). I think you’re going to shit your pants when you see your fellow classmates—they speak perfect English and they have never even left China, or even spoken with a foreigner. It’s frightening.

The reason I couldn’t finish was:

  1. There is absolutely no structure. No textbook, no curriculum—there’s not even a freakin schedule! It changes every week! Your teacher will also change every week, and you will never be taught by anybody that is UN/EU certified—that’s what they have the Ph.D students for.
  2. Teachers honestly don’t care. Whether you fail or succeed, they literally just don’t give a shit. This attitude bothers me—I used to be a teacher, and I always wanted my students to succeed.
  3. The whole reason I decided to sign up for this program was because I knew I couldn’t teach myself how to be a proper interpreter. I needed guidance. But the professors weren’t guiding me while I was there, so it was essentially the same as studying on my own. What’s the point?
  4. Degree was too long. I was 26 when I started, and the longer I stayed the longer I realized how I would graduate at 30, be competing with my classmates that were WAY better than me, and quite possibly graduate at the same level I started at because the school sucked.

I think if you have crazy good self-control, can teach yourself, and can put up with really shitty administration and staff (i.e. teachers that don’t care, admin staff that can’t even tell you when the first day of class is) then you’ll be good to go. The ONE GIRL that went to CI from last year studied in the library from 8am to 8pm everyday—not even joking. Are you ready to commit to that?

My friends are still in the program (the two other foreigners) and I’d be happy to introduce them to you. I’m sure you’re going to have 4382904832 questions cause the school won’t help you, so let me help you get in touch with them.

Unfortunately, I’m not at the school but I’m in still in Shanghai. I got a job offer at one of the top 3 Japanese advertising agencies to be an in-house interpreter/translator for Japanese/Chinese. My Japanese is actually 100x better than my Chinese, so maybe it was destiny for me to quit the program.

Anyway! I’ll get in touch with you today! My e-mail is [email protected]

You already in Shanghai, btw?

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roddy

It'd be much more interesting for us if you chatted on here...

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brucehuang

Hi,

Wow, it's amazing how fast you saw my post. I was expecting to hear from you maybe a month from now. Yes I am aware of what I am getting into. the CI program is the "best" program in the school and one of the two best in the country. Only 10 CI candidates enroll with the program per year. They only select ONE or TWO of the best ouf of the MTI program to join the CI crew. But in return though, MTI gurantees yourself at least a Masters degree while the CI people just pack up and leave if they can't keep up. In reality, they are only going to train about 10 and cut it down to 6 graduates per year. Thouse are the candidates who actually get to work with the "famous" professors.

I am not sure if I am ready to compete with Chinese study robots but I am sure I have my advantages over them. I am giving it a shot anyways. All the study robots in China lacks the culture experience from the West; as compared with people such as you and me, they have at least that side of disadvantage. Now, I hate to sound racist and in no way am I trying to bash on white people. "Laowai" in general lacks the fundamental understanding of this country; at least not as much exposed as compared with Chinese locals. Honestly I don't know what to call myself. Bananas (ABC) calls me FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) and FOBs in the US calls me Banana. I guess I've given myself a special catagory called the FOBANANAS. I guess that kinda gives me advantage over both "study machines" and "foreign idiots". One professor I've worked with came up this special word called 1.5 generation Asian Americans. That's kinda me. :D Not exactly first nor exactly second; somewhere exactly halfway. I guess I would like to take that up against study robots and see how that works out :D

Oh and all the craps in China was once familiar to me, I just need time to put back my Chinese face and I think I'll be able to deal with the shitty part of this country; after all, I look the same, I speak with no weirdo foreign accent and I am very accustomed to how things work in this country. No one can tell myself apart from the locals and sometimes I can even convince myself to believe that I am a local. Vice versa in the US. I have this on and off switch where I have control over. I think I wanna give it a shot. Maybe I am just exactly the material fit for this industry; until I find something else that suits my need, I am rolling with the program.

PS, would be great if you hook up a friend or two before heading over; my flight to Shanghai leaves tomorrow. I've been staying with the Chinese side of my family for the past 4 month. I did the conversion during this summer, now I am back to almost 100% pure "Ching Chong".

And, no offense in any of racisist word used above. BTW, what's your Facebook?

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angeia

Wowww don't even know where to start on your post here..

I get notified via e-mail about this thread, so that's how I found out about this thing so quickly. Also, always happy to help out a future victim of SISU.

Anyway, I think you forgot you're talking to one of the "laowai" you mentioned in your post up there. I have two friends in the SISU MTI program currently, one is a graduate of Chinese from Cambridge and one has been studying Chinese for over 10 years with a masters degree in the language. I'm the most novice out of them, I guess you could say, but I still have HSK 6 and managed to speak fluent Chinese in less than one year. I've lived in China for almost 3 years now, and honestly, I understand it more than I would like. We've all dated real Chinese guys and had Chinese friends and I think we know this country better than your average 'let's get wasted in Shanghai' foreigner. Otherwise, we wouldn't have made it into the program. I wouldn't put a label on all the 'laowais' here either by assuming they're stupid and don't know anything about China. Many foreigners I've met in Shanghai have absolutely mind blowing Chinese and they are more well versed about China and its history than the locals.

And I'm actually half-Asian myself, so I know where you're coming from. I still don't like to call myself a twinkie or banana or whatever that makes me. I'm tired of labels.

I think having the western background will help you in the class, but more than anything endurance is going to be your best friend. Endurance to put up with the school.

You'll probably meet my two friends at the school sooner or later, they both have CSC scholarships are in the MTI program second year. I don't know how to say this term in Chinese, but they will be your 先輩. They are the only two foreigners in the program--I'm not sure if there will be foreigners in your year, but you'll see!

Oh and all the craps in China was once familiar to me, I just need time to put back my Chinese face and I think I'll be able to deal with the shitty part of this country; after all, I look the same, I speak with no weirdo foreign accent and I am very accustomed to how things work in this country. No one can tell myself apart from the locals and sometimes I can even convince myself to believe that I am a local. Vice versa in the US. I have this on and off switch where I have control over. I think I wanna give it a shot. Maybe I am just exactly the material fit for this industry; until I find something else that suits my need, I am rolling with the program.

My friends and I have little to zero when we speak Chinese. We we don't have this "weirdo foreign accent" you speak of. We also know how it works here in China, and its frustrating--but at the same time, it's China and we love it.

Anyway, good luck with the program. I added you on facebook. Let me know if you need anything. I'm sure you'll see my friends at SISU soon.

Have a nice flight.

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brucehuang

Looks like you visit the SISU Guest sometimes. You and I would probably be seeing each other once in a while. Oh and another reson why I picked this field...I think I might be the one or two guys out of a crew of ladies. :P

I know I might sound a little crazy, trust me I mean no offense. I'm not sure what are their Chinese level but I am sure if they aren't born and at least raised some part of their lives in China, "we" as in "locals" (really, no offense) can hear something. It's like that one professor I talked about earlier, he is a Chinese language professor who have studied and livedi in China for over 20 years, he holds a PhD in Chinese Studies from Cornell. That's pretty impressive right? He knows more classical Chinese stuff than I do but trust me...I can still hear an accent...

:D Come visit sometime. I am sure you know Shanghai better than I do. Show me around!

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simplet

Hey everyone I had my eye on this thread for a while and I'm happy to see it's not quite dead yet.

 

I'm seriously considering applying for the SISU program and a CSC scholarship next year, from what I'm gathering from you guys it looks like the scholarship is kind of easy to get for foreigners? How did you get it did you apply directly through the university or did you send an application to your embassy?

 

Does any of you knows anything about their french program? I'm french and I'll be living in Russia this year doing an internship for the french embassy, do you know if I'd be able to follow some of the english and russian classes? I consider my english pretty good, and I've already worked as a conference interpreter for international institutions to and from english when I was working in Africa. Will they welcome me like the messiah or are they only interested in native english speakers? 

 

I got the HSK 6 easily this year, after two years outside china and 4 days of preparation (It was just after my finals) so I think my chinese is quite solid, especially my comprehension but my worry is that it's a bit rusty. I probably won't be able to get back to a good pronunciation in time, do you guys know if that's that going to be a big problem? My handwriting is also almost non-existant now, but at least I can work on that before I get there.

 

How are you doing in the program bruce?

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