Chinese to English Translation Programs

Posted on: May 11, 2021   in: Chinese

Chinese to English Translation Programs

In this article about Chinese to English translation programs, I’m going to give some of my thoughts about the programs on offer at the moment. I think there are huge structural problems that probably would apply to higher education in general, but I do have some cause of optimism over the longer-term.


There are several types of Chinese to English translation program. Let’s start only by considering “proper” academic programs. In that case, we’ve got programs that focus on translation in general, programs that only do Chinese to English translation, and programs that include Chinese to English translation as part of a Chinese language course.

Starting from the bottom, Chinese to English translation as part of a language course is structred to help you understand the language and/or culture, not to enhance your actual ability to translate. Pretty much every graduate and post-graduate language program will include some level of “translation”, but I doubt that too many include any actual studies of tranlation theory in any way that would be useful to a prcatical Chinese to English translator. So I won’t be talking about those.

Just to be totally clear, those “translation” modules you might encounter on a language degree are not translation. They are methods to help you understand the language you are learning. In theory you could be an expert at translation theory without actually speaking a second language, although I don’t think I would recommend that.

Next we’ve got the programs that only do Chinese to English translation. Actually lots of translation degrees offer a bunch of generic theory courses, and add in a couple of Chinese – English classes and call themselves specialist Chinese to English translation courses. I’m not aware of any translation studies course that doesn’t include some level of practical translation. So actually, the first and second catergoeies are basically the same and I’ll look at them together.

Let’s take a look at the course run at Bristol University as an example

Bristol University Chinese to English Translation Program

As of 11th May 2021, this is a list of the modules on the program:

Dissertation MODLM0012 60 Mandatory AYEAR
Applied Translation (Mandarin) MODLM0007 20 Mandatory TB-1
Theories of Translation MODLM0005 20 Mandatory TB-1
Introduction to Specialised Translation (Mandarin) MODLM0008 20 Mandatory TB-2
Advanced English for Translation Skills LANGM0003 10 Mandatory TB-1
Introduction to Liaison Interpreting MODLM0027 10 Mandatory TB-1
Select 40cp from:
CAT Tools MODLM0013 20 Optional TB-4
Translation for Subtitling MODLM0009 20 Optional TB-2
Translation Industry Today MODLM0011 20 Optional TB-2
Liaison Interpreting for Business MODLM0026 20 Optional TB-2
Game Localization MODLM0028 20 Optional TB-2
Translation and International Film Distribution MODLM0040 20 Optional TB-2
Students may take the following 20cp unit in place of 20cp of optional units from the list with the agreement of the programme director:
Supervised Individual Study AFACM0008 20 Optional TB-1,TB-2

Okay, first the fact that the course offers a useful English skills module for the Chinese speakers grinds my gears. Not because they offer it, but because – why don’t they offer an advanced course in Mandarin for the English natives? I suspect I already know the answer, I bet virtually all the students are working from English into Chinese and are native Chinese, so they need help with their English, rather than the other way round.

Still English natives like me would benefit from being able to take a dedicated module of a Mandarin program. It really bugged me at Imperial when I did my MSc that there were no specialist Chinese language courses and I had to do it through self-study. Meanwhile the Chinese students working into English were given lots of different advanced English courses to choose from.

My next point, I only see the name of one Chinese – English translator on the staff, so I’m assuming she does all the teaching. I notice she is native Chinese, so again I’m guessing most of the emphasis is on working into Chinese.

There’s nothing wrong with the two above points except the fact that we taxpayers are partially funding the universities and if they are spending all their time offering courses to overseas students it seems a bit unfair. Native English speakers will always be a minority unless programs start targetting us a bit better. There’s no point complaining about the lack of native English translators on the one hand, and then not offering any enticing courses for them on the other.

I digress. This article was supposed to be about the courses.

Analysis of the Modules

I think the list of modules makes for a good introduction to translation and interpreting. My only minor worry is that it’s too broad because it covers translation and interpretation. I would prefer them to offer students the choice of one or the other. It’s really hard to learn either of the two in just a year, let alone both. However, I understand the reasons behind it.

All the required reading on the course is good. I would recommend reading it all to all students. I would probably just add that I read a bunch of new Chinese linguistics textbooks such as “Learning the Use of Chinese Aspect Particles”. Those new Chinese linguistics textbooks are really offering a whole new insight into the language for us English natives, and we are suddently going to get new understandings of some of the compexities in Chinese.

Modules for UCL Translation Programs

UCL Campus

Here are the modules for the UCL MA, as of May 2021:

Translation and Technology (Audiovisual) MScCore modules:

Optional modules (two modules of 15 credits each):

Translation and Technology (Scientific, Technical and Medical) MScCore modules:

Optional modules (two modules of 15 credits each):

Translation and Technology (with Interpreting) MScCore modules:

Optional modules (two modules of 15 credits each):


Wow! What a difference from the Bristol course. Because UCL is offering three different tracks, they are able to go into more depth on each of the tracks.

So if you know you want to get into subtitling for example, probably best to start on the Audiovisual program.

I think that’s a really good approach, but probably only possible because of the size of UCL. If a student isn’t quite sure which aspect of translating they want to enter, they might be better with a more generic course.

Looking at the Scientific and Technical Module in more depth

This is the module which is closest to my heart as I always imagined myself focusing on technical documents. After about 5 years I realized that to make I living I would also have to start doing basic legal documents, and now I do a mix of both.

For this type of course, one of the key aspects is understanding the features of the different source types.

I would like to ask a simple question. I won’t give an answer but I’ve got my own opionions on it. Do you think a technical translator will choose a different translation approach than say a legal translator. Is there different theory that governs how to translate a particular clause knowing that it’s from a technical document?

I would prefer to see more of an emphasis on generic technical writing, and the theory behind technical writing than on technical translation per se. The issue many people have is not really understanding the nuances of the technical field, not that they lack the translation theory knowledge.

Translation Programs – Conclusion

There are a really wide variety of translation courses out there. If you know which specalism you are interested, I recommend you find the course closest to that. If not, do a more generic course.

If you are interested in for example, legal or technical translation, I don’t think the available courses offer a huge value other than practice and getting feedback. I would recommend joining for example an engineering course or legal writing course to learn the necessary writing rules. Then it’s a relatievly easy matter to apply your translation skills to those rules.

Finally I wish the universities would at least try to offer a better level of courses for native English speakers. Good courses will attract good students and the field will grow. I have met several translators who decided not to do a course at all because they were all clearly geared up to the native Chinese speakers.

At the same time, I hope the translation programs can offer useful and relevant skills to the native Chinese students, who can help improve the industry round the world.