In China, translation plays an important role at key moments in history. In the second century, Buddhism reached the Middle Kingdom. It was necessary to translate the sacred texts from Sanskrit; in the eighteenth century, when Christian missions translated the holy texts into Chinese and the key texts of the boundless Chinese literature into Chinese Latin.
Nowadays the importance of communication makes the situation very different, translations are more and more often conducted in both ways, in Chinese, and from Chinese.
Things to know
The simple way to translate is by Google Translate. It can be true, the automatic translator works well, like when translating instructions for washing a T-shirt or putting together a piece of furniture.
Most of the time translating from one language to another is always a complex process, but with Chinese, it could be even more difficult than we think. In order to maintain the readability of the original text, the translator must often make choices, adaptations, additions, and cuts. Then the last step from the translator is transforming simple translation from one language to another into a rewriting.
Every verb tense has its specific function, each aspect is explained and explainable, every rule is firm even with its exceptions.
1. Look for known words
When learning Chinese, you will feel that every new text there will always be words you have never seen before. A good strategy is to first identify the words you know, at times this is all that is needed to get an idea of the general meaning of the text. In a Chinese text, the characters are not normally separated like our words, which will be a challenge for beginners, compared to those who already know a fair amount of characters.
Start with words with a grammatical function such as the “three de” (的、得、地), 了 (le), 过 (guo), the particles 吗 (ma)、吧 (ba)、呢 (ne), frequently used conjunctions and adverbs such as 但是 (dànshì), 可是(kěshì), 而且 (érqiě), 非常 (fēicháng), or 比较 (bǐjiào).
Isolate the parts of the text, even circling or highlighting them to separate them from the “blocks” in order to break down the phrases. Numerals are also easy to identify which indicates the time in which an action takes place.
2. Look for unknown words
Once you identify the known words, check a dictionary or simply Google Translate and you find the “missing words”. The most applicable meanings, and possible translations once you have a better idea of the whole meaning, you will be able to choose the best-suited word in English without looking at them again.
Some words consist of multiple characters, which you will not be able to find out in the dictionaries. In those cases, look at the characters separately to be able to figure out the meaning of the entire word.
Since Chinese is a “cryptic” language, it is not immediately understandable and you will have to read at least the first paragraph to be able to interpret it. If you cannot translate a phrase, you just need to move on to the next sentence to understand the next one.
3. Ask for help
Consult with teachers and Chinese friends who can help us to figure out the meaning of certain expressions. If you are not able to understand a text read a certain book or unaware of a proverb that is widely known in China.
If you cannot understand a word in the context, look for another example or sentence in which you will likely be able to understand the meaning of the expression based on another phrase. Once you understand the meaning of the text, which in my case will be a mess of notes, arrows, and possible meanings, we can then move on to the next phase.
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