Last year, our curiosity was piqued when we heard that Nanyang Junior College would be adding another subject to the A level curriculum – H2 Translation. A relatively new and unique subject, it took in its pioneer batch this year in 2015. The subject entails both English to Chinese translation, and vice versa, with emphasis on building bilingual and bicultural citizens in Singapore. While Nanyang Junior College’s principal Mr Kwek hopes to develop it as a niche programme, we are not alone in offering this newly implemented subject, with other JCs such as Hwa Chong Institution, Jurong Junior College and Dunman High School also offering it. These schools are known for inculcating an appreciation for Chinese culture amidst an increasingly westernised Singapore.
The four schools offering Translation: (clockwise) Nanyang Junior College, Dunman High School, Hwa Chong Institution, Jurong Junior College
It is pretty obvious why a subject like Translation has been chosen to be implemented into the A level syllabus. After all, China is a rising global power and it is growing at an incredible pace, and there is a growing rise in demand to learn Chinese and do business in China. Many dealings between China and other global powers demand proficient translators. There is thus a growing need for accuracy of translation.
While we may use Google Translate when we need help in our understanding foreign languages, we definitely have some doubts over the accuracy of this software because of its reliance on statistical matching, which swaps common terms for nonequivalent terms of another language. Google Translation often ends up being a source of humour because of its mistranslations.
We’re pretty sure Mockingjay was not about Jay Chou
Because of the nuances of each language, it is important for these little subtleties not to get lost in the midst of inaccurate translation, lest changing the meaning as a result. Hence, Translation was introduced as a subject so as to develop proficient translators and push for more effectively bilingual citizens.
In order to find out more about what goes on in Translation, we’ve decided to interview Mr Zhou Yefeng, one of the two Translation teachers in Nanyang Junior College to satiate our curiosity (and maybe yours) about this new subject.
Mr Zhou Yefeng, a Translation teacher in NYJC
What does Translation entail?
Translation is actually very much a subject that is present in everyday life, especially for Singapore. For H2 Translation, we have to translate materials from English to Chinese and from Chinese to English. It involves a good understanding of the fundamentals of both languages so that we can decipher difficult sentences and translate them into coherent sentences (in a different language) so that a different native audience can still understand them.
What’s the curriculum like?
We study materials that we possibly see in real life, a total of eight different text types, which includes cooking recipes (which I’m no expert in) to instruction manuals, brochures, reports and advertisements. Other than doing actual translation, we will analyse errors in translation as well as examine the different theories of translation and their application.
What are examples of assignments?
As mentioned, we do actual translation of different text types. For the last assignment, the students have to translate a recipe on how to cook a famous Hakka dish, suan pan zi 算盘子. So our assignments come from everyday life, which is very interesting.
How did you prepare to teach this subject?
The teachers went for a course last year conducted by MOE, which gives us some background preparation for this new course, but it’s evidently not enough. I find myself reading a lot of linguistics books, in particularly English grammar and comparative linguistics.
Mr Zhou teaching in one of his Translation lessons
How to succeed in this subject?
A genuine interest in the subject. Translation is very much an application subject, where you have to first try your hand at translating before you can go on to analysis or error analysis. That’s the interesting part, which will give you the motivation to go through the not-so-interesting (but very important) part, where you have to crunch theories. A good command of Chinese will also help as you have to write your answers to the theory questions in Chinese, which is often overlooked by students.
A translation class filled with girls- Any boys up for this challenge?
With the recent introduction of this subject, there is an evident push towards bilingualism in a country where there is an apparent loss of mastery in one’s mother tongue.
That begs the question — what is to come in the near future? Well, perhaps Translation as a subject could apply to languages other than Chinese, thus preserving cultural and linguistic heritage while keeping Singaporeans proficient in the English language.