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Translating the nuances of the word "course," "class," and "lesson" from English into Chinese


Jason Tai
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Some of these words have slightly different implicature depending on the country. The Chinese dictionaries I have don't really clarify which Chinese word maps to which English concept.  i.e. "Course" can be a university degree/award, or in the US "Course" can be an individual "unit" inside a university degree.   "Class" could refer to a unit of learning content or a "scheduled time to study" and "lesson" could refer to an "individual topic to learn within a sequence of topics", or "lesson" could refer to "unit of time in which a sequence of topics will be learnt".  I hope that is clear?

 

1. What is the Chinese word for "lesson", when lesson means "a chapter, or paragraph in a book that teaches the student a specific discrete topic amongst a sequence of topics"?

2. What is the Chinese word for "course", where course means "a collection of individual topics, grouped togher in a sequence"?

Are there differences in terminology for "course" and "lesson" in different countries (i.e. China vs Taiwan, etc...)

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On 1/6/2022 at 7:11 PM, Jason Tai said:

The Chinese dictionaries I have don't really clarify which Chinese word maps to which English concept.

 

I'm not a linguist, but it has often been my experience that it is beyond the scope of a dictionary to supply precise mapping of concepts when translating from one language to another. Might be best to get a rough idea from the dictionary, then refine it by reading material written on the subject in the target language or using the terms in conversation with native speakers. Some dictionaries attempt to give you a head start on this by including "example sentences." These "minor shades" of meaning typically become clarified over time through use. 

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On 1/7/2022 at 3:11 AM, Jason Tai said:

1. What is the Chinese word for "lesson", when lesson means "a chapter, or paragraph in a book that teaches the student a specific discrete topic amongst a sequence of topics"?

2. What is the Chinese word for "course", where course means "a collection of individual topics, grouped togher in a sequence"?

 

My Chinese tutors call the first 课 and the second 课程.

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On 1/8/2022 at 9:12 AM, alantin said:

My Chinese tutors call the first 课 and the second 课程

 

Agree. Mine did that too (China Mainland.) This is a much more practical answer to the question. Apologies for my theoretical ramble. 

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This topic interests me because there were multiple times during the last few weeks when writing to non-native English speakers, I changed my English wording to avoid confusion.  

 

比如:  I first wrote "I just finished teaching my class." - but I thought the person might assume I taught just 1 lecture, so I changed it to "I just finish teaching my course." 

 

Or when asking someone "when do you go back to school?", I changed it to "the university." 

 

While class and course have much overlap in their meanings in American English, there are differences.  (e.g., saying "I just finished a course" virtually always means a multi-lecture course.  In contrast, "I just finished a class" could mean a single lecture or full course.  

 

Lesson also has multiple meanings in this regard.  "My Chinese class today included a lesson on ...." (i.e., lesson was a fragment of a class) or "My Chinese lessons are almost finished" (implying multi-day training). 

 

Hence, I thought abcdefg's "theoretical rant" was on-target because lessons, class & course have somewhat fluid meanings depending on the contest.  It's tough for a dictionary, even one just in English, to capture all of the shades of meaning.  The last I read was that the Oxford English dictionary took >65,000 words to describe all of the meanings for the word "set."     

 

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Interesting discussion. Agree with @Dawei3about "somewhat fluid meanings depending on the context."  

 

What I actually do in real life these days when I hit an important word in a Chinese text or passage that is completely unfamiliar to me and not easy to guess, is I quickly look it up in a dictionary (on-line) then I Baidu Search it or Google Search it and quickly skim a couple of articles that pop up. This gives me a better, more rounded idea of how the term is actually used, what it actually describes. 

 

As an example, when I lived in China and was doing a regular stream of Chinese food and Chinese cooking articles, it was nearly impossible for me to get a useable understanding of what a cooking term meant from the pages of a dictionary alone. Even today, if I were to try to explain to you what it meant to fricassee a piece of meat and how that differed from stewing it or frying it, the explanation would be much more  if I lucid if I used a concrete example.  "Here's how to make fricasseed chicken." 

 

In China, if I wanted to really understand what it meant to 清炒 fresh spinach, or predict what a menu item promising 清炒菠菜加蒜泥 would be like when it got to my table, the dictionary would help a little, but reading an illustrated description on Baidu would help more and watching two or three videos of cooks actually doing it would bring it all home. 

 

A dictionary, even a good one, is an important but limited tool. Admittedly, it's a great starting place, but it doesn't always provide all the information that is needed. 

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