Here are some of the things I learnt in China, from Translators who work as Translators translating Chinese into English.
You can see some of their published Public efforts on "Lost with Translation" Forum at ActiveEnglishSpeaking...AES
- Don't crack a joke. Its taken seriously and you end up with an hurt person who feels they have lost face because you laughed. eg 'Oh!!! You really are being silly...' is taken to mean, 'you are silly'
- Don't try to correct their English. Because they translated it, it has to be correct.
- Don't try and explain a joke. You get into more hot water than its worth, and they do not think its funny.
- Don't correct 'bad english' as they do not see the inaccuracies and think you are weird, or even crazy, or that you don't really know the language you were born to.
- Don't expect thanks if you do correct something they have asked you to proofread. They only ask you to proofread so they can show you how clever they are to have translated all this by themselves.
- You are expected to say, 'very good' and 'well done' and nod your head many times. They do NOT want your proof corrections, and will not even acknowledge them if you do correct it because you cannot handle obvious errors.
- If you see an error in a Newspaper or Magazine, and point it out, they will take it personally as a slur on their translating ability.
- They will not understand the error and feel slighted because you have pointed it out.
- They get very upset if shown an error in translation...anywhere. Even on a Road sign or shop front, and they will never understand what is funny about a hairdresser called "Fkt-it Hare". They take engrish errors personally.
- They get even more upset after you explain the error as you have now caused them to lose face because they still do not understand what you are talking about, and they never will, even when they say they do, because they can't.
- Do not correct a translator in front of her Boss or peers, as they do not understand her English anyway and think she is good because she speaks words they do not understand...and neither do you, because the words are wrong and don't make sense.
- Never try and explain your mistake to a translator for her to translate to your Boss. The message is always opposite to what you said, and you have no idea what has been said, and believe me, it will not be in your favor. I asked her to tell my male boss next time to send the wine to my room, instead of presenting it to me at the Table, and he was there the next night with wine and a big smile. I still wonder what she told him but it wasn't what I said.
- Do not ask a translator to translate something that has multiple or compound sentences and expect it to read correctly.
- Never laugh at a meaning, especially if you know its right out of a Chinese Dictionary and is totally wrong....like the word 'founded'...Who founded the Company? Grin!!! How was the account lost?
- Never argue with a Translator. If she says Strawberries are cherries, you should simply nod and smile. Correcting only causes her to lose face, as the others around her don't understand 'Strawberry' or 'Cherry' so what they heck!!! She knows Engrish....If she says its a cherry, its a cherry. Correcting her when she insists she is right, is a serious mistake and a total loss of face.
- Always smile....it covers your confusion and distress.
- Don't ask her to translate the menu...she has no idea what the fish is called in English, nor the Engrish word for broadbeans cooked with salted pigs ears and feet. Insisting she must know is very bad. Just nod your head and eat what she chooses...even if you hate tomatoes and egg, raw sliced potato or seaweed soup...which seem to be the translators specials. And wines...forget that. Pick a number and order it, or drink hot green tea and hot orange juice.
- Don't ask her the price of an item. She really does not know how to calculate your share of the Account. Its better to simply pay, rather than cause her to lose face at being given a task she cannot handle, which is work out the bill and tell you what cost what.
- When she has done something wrong, give her another task, and never point out that this was wrong. eg when page 32 was copied instead of 34 and 35, and done 24 times instead of 12, pointing this out is not acceptable. Shut up and give the task again, and say thankyou for the first mess up and circle-file it discreetly.
- Be patient. Learn to say something six times in varying degrees of speed and ease until the message is smilingly understood. Never imply that she is not as competent as she is thought to be by those above her, or those who have hired her, and who don't have any Engrish and never will.
- When she gets offended by your lack of tact, remember to smile becomingly and revise everything you said, until all around know that you are the Clot, and she is the sensitive word perfect translator who is being pushed to extreme stress, because of you...the foreign devil who lacks charm and finesse
- Last but not least, don't throw the English Dictionary at her and tell her to read it. The Chinese Dictionary gets used tactfully when no-one is watching, and thats where she gets the wrong translations from. She will not listen to what you are trying to tell her about the meanings of words, so Give up and work it out yourself.
- Don't expect her to be even slightly sympathetic or empathetic or even understanding. You are the Foreign Devil and she is the Chinese martyr having to work under you and work out your words best as she can. Any mistake is yours, as you said it. She simply translated your words.
- Telling her to speak slowly is a waste of time. She has learnt that fluent Engrish is spoken fast, and as no-one else understands it either, she is having great face by her fast speed of communication. So what if you don't understand, and as no-one else can understand her words, and expressions, picked up from movies and bad CD taped programs, they are still expected to be impressed by her speaking skills, and so are you.
- Smileeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!! Its your safe guard. the moment you stop smiling, you are out of favor...as then she knows you are not happy with her, and that is bad Joss and even worse Karma.
Marguerite Carstairs June 2008