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Posts Tagged ‘translation’

Misdaventures in ESL: Married to a Dictionary

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2014 at 3:00 am

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By Antonio Graceffo

Language learners can be intelligent and even have a fairly large vocabulary, but cultural barriers may still prevent them from learning. In Asia, for example, because students have been forced, since childhood, to memorize long lists of vocabulary, it is very common for them to be married to the concept that each English word has exactly one meaning, regardless of context, and exactly one translation into their mother tongue. And this belief is often so ingrained, trained over a period of decades, that in spite of my education and being a native speaker I cannot dissuade them of it.
Here is an example from a high level group of adult students in China. We read a text about the threat of a pandemic wiping out most of Europe. They knew the word “epidemic”. So, I explained that the “demic” in “pandemic” was similarly related to a disease. And they were fine with that. Next, I asked if they knew the word “pan.” Instantly, they all said “frying pan.” I commended them on knowing ‘frying pan,’ but pointed out that in this context, pan had a different meaning. To which, they responded, “frying pan.” So, I told them that ‘pan’ meant ‘across.’ And that a ‘pandemic’ was an epidemic that went across national borders.
“Yes, because the frying pans are dirty.” explained one of the more intelligent students. In fact, he even rethought “dirty” and said “un-san-i-tary.” Once again, I was very supportive. “Nice word.” But I went on to explain that ‘pandemic’ had nothing to do with a frying pan. In the end, I had to simply move on. Not only did they not learn the meaning of “pan”, but they think I was lying to them, and they will never trust me again.
In another class, with an intermediate level, private Japanese student in her fifties, the article said “After seeing the film in the cinema, the star felt it was a real work of art.” So, I asked my student, “What does it mean when they say “a real work of art?” The student didn’t know. So, I explained, “It means the actress didn’t think this was just a movie for entertainment. It was something special.” So, the student asked “Art mean special?” I tried several more times to explain, in vain. “She meant the movie was beautiful.”
“Art mean beautiful?” she asked.
An interesting point about older Japanese students is that they often speak in very broken English, well below their level. But their reading comprehension is exactly on level. Apart from this one hang up, the student understood the complex text about the making of a short film which won awards.
“The movie was meaningful.” I tried again.
“Art mean meaningful?”
It was one more example of students looking for, even needing, each English word to have exactly one meaning and one translation. “Yes, it means special, beautiful, and meaningful all at once.” I conceded. And we moved on.
Another example was a text that said someone had accused someone else of murder. The student didn’t know “accuse.” So, I simplified by saying, “It means you say someone did something wrong.” She responded “accuse mean say?”
“Not exactly, it means to say someone did something wrong.”
I went through several examples of accusing someone of murder or bank robbery or rigging the votes in Florida. After going through a number of examples, the student said “Understand now. Accuse mean tell.”
The absolute worst example of this phenomenon I have ever encountered was in Cambodia. In an intermediate class, mostly full of college students and young professionals, We read an article which began something like this “If you think baseball is boring, you should try cricket. A cricket match can last three days and end in a tie score of zero-zero.” I confirmed if the students knew what baseball was. And they did. Next, I asked if they knew what cricket was. One girl quickly said, “A small animal that makes music.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “That is the common use of the word cricket. But here, it has a different meaning.” We reread the opening sentence. Then I asked “Can anyone guess what cricket refers to here?” I wasn’t expecting them to know it was a British game, or have a picture of the game in their heads. They had obviously never heard of it. But since cricket involved a match and could end in a tie score, and it was being compared to baseball, I just wanted to see if they would guess that it was some kind of a game or sport.
I went around the room, asking, “In this text, IN THIS TEXT, specifically in this text, can anyone guess what cricket means?” The first three students all said, “A small animal…”
I tried to use logic. “Let’s test your theory that ‘cricket,’ in this text, refers to a small animal.” I read the text aloud, using a substitution. “If you think baseball is boring, you should try a small-animal-that-makes-music. A small-animal-that-makes-music match can last three days and end in a tie score of zero-zero.”
After I finished reading, I asked “Does that make sense?” To which, the whole class dutifully replied, “Yes, teacher.” I just decided to scrap the text and move on. This wasn’t a class on insectology. Entomology maybe, but insectology, NEVER!
Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. He is martial arts and adventure author living in Asia, the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at amazon.com. The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at http://www.blackbeltmag.com/warrior_odyssey
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on http://www.blackbeltmag.com
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Finding the Master’s House

In Uncategorized on November 9, 2013 at 10:15 am

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Lost in Taiwanisation

By Antonio Graceffo

When I first got to Taiwan, the school I was teaching at arranged for me to study kung fu with a teacher in another village. They told me that for the first week, the school janitor would drive me there, then, after that, I would have to drive myself, on my motorcycle. The town where we lived was very small, and we had to drive through even more remote little Taiwanese villages, to get to the teacher’s house. Every night, on the way to training and back, I sat in the front seat, next to the driver, meticulously making notes, even drawing pictures, of how to go there. The whole way, I asked questions, what is this road called, what is that building…just so I could have points of reference. Unfortunately, almost nothing had  name. I remember asking, “What is this road called?” And he answered, “Yes, you can call it a road or a street.” Very helpful. I was sweating bullets about the day I would have to drive myself. This was 12 years ago, and I couldn’t speak any Chinese. There weren’t that many street signs out in the country side. And the ones that did exist were all in Chinese. From experience, I knew that if I got lost, I couldn’t ask or understand directions. Even if I found someone who spoke English, what would I tell them? Can you tell me how to get to Master Chiu’s house?

By the fifth night, I was pretty certain I had a good idea how to get there and back. I condensed my pages and pages of notes and drew out a map with pictures and landmarks. But on that night, we came back a different way. About halfway back, the janitor turned to me and said, “Remember this road. This is how you will have to drive yourself on your motorcycle tomorrow.”

I bloody flipped out. What a stupid plan! He had five nights to teach me the rout but he only took me on the rout I needed, once, and only on the way back and only told me after it was too late for me to write anything down.

I never saw that master again.

 

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at amazon.com. The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at http://www.blackbeltmag.com/warrior_odyssey

See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on  http://www.blackbeltmag.com

website

www.speakingadventure.com

Twitter

http://twitter.com/Brooklynmonk

facebook

Brooklyn Monk fan page

Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE

http://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1

 

Brooklyn Monk in 3D

Order the download at http://3dguy.tv/brooklyn-monk-in-3d/

Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

http://brooklynmonk.podomatic.com

Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

http://brooklynmonk.podomatic.com

Of Course Translation is Difficult

In Uncategorized on October 30, 2013 at 11:51 pm

It’s in another language

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By Antonio Graceffo

The material for our modern coaching class is in English. The teacher assigned about twenty pages of reading for homework, but when class started, he wanted to translate, NOT discuss, translate the pages. So in a three hour class, we got through about a page and a half of text. Chinese are just too tied to the original words and do the worst translations ever. Why can’t they accept that a translation is about meaning, not words?

Not relying on a single translation, the teacher asked each student to come to the front and explain some of the English text we had read for homework. There was so much specialized and colloquial language in texts that I just didn’t see how my Chinese classmates could understand it. The Chinese students at the sports university aren’t really the sharpest tools in the shed. If they were smarter, they would be at a big name university, studying an academic subject. The homework had been to read about twenty pages. So, I had jotted down some notes, a very short summary of each page. When I got to the front, I did what I normally do when I’m teaching. I put my notes at the podium and I walked around, talking to the audience, teaching. Just after I started talking, the teacher said, “only do the first two pages.” I looked and my notes for those two pages were only about three sentences. So, I went through, reading each paragraph and explaining it in Chinese. Obviously, I have problems translating into Chinese. Sometimes I had trouble explaining because I was missing the specific vocabulary, but I explained my way around it.

After a bit, the teacher told me to sit down. I thought I had done OK. It was far from perfect, but honestly, none of the other foreign students could have done that well. And I was funnier than the Chinese students. I had the whole class laughing. Later, the teacher caught me in the hall and in very tortured, slow, school English he said, “You—-have—-difficulty—translating into Chinese.” I was blown away. What a retarded thing to say. Obviously I have difficulty translating into Chinese, it’s a foreign language. Translators generally only translate into their mother tongue. Also, it’s the first month of a three-year program. It should be clear that I’m not perfect yet. Going into this program, you go from HSK 4 level reading straight into PHD level classes with very specialized sports and health vocabulary, words like: athletic peak, recovery, explosive power…

I looked at the teacher, and in English, I just said, “Of course.”

He jstared at me. I wasn’t sure if he didn’t know the word “of course” but his expression definitely conveyed that he didn’t feel I had answered his question. So, I repeated, “Of course.” And I walked away.

Thinking back on the incident, and similar snafus I have had at this university and during my 12 years in Asia, this is what I came up with:

  1. They seem incapable of evaluating our Chinese level. While my translation and presentation in the front of the room wasn’t perfect, it should be obvious that I had to be at a relatively high level to be able to do even that well. So, the sentence “you have difficulty translating into Chinese,” could have been delivered in Chinese.
  2. They are incapable of evaluating their own linguistic level: One reason I gave him the simple response “Of course”, was because it was obvious he would not have understood a thorough explanation in English.
  3. Because Chinese people would never admit their own failings, they seem to not get it when I say, “I can’t do it” or “Yeah, of course I can’t translate high level English into Chinese.” But it’s like this with everything, even sports training. On the wrestling team they told me to do a cartwheel, then a hand stand, then a forward roll, then a forward roll into a split. “I can’t do that last one.” I said. “No, I mean forward roll into a split.” The trainer explained. “Yes, I understand what you want, but I can’t do it.” He demonstrated. “Like that.” And waited for me to copy him. “I can’t do it.” I repeated. It went on and on with him simply restating and re-explaining. “I mean do a forward roll, but when you land, land in a split.” They don’t seem to be able to accept it when I say that I can’t do something. By the same token, maybe they don’t know when they can’t do something, like using that English text book in coaching science class. How the hell do they believe they are getting anything out of it?

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at amazon.com. The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at http://www.blackbeltmag.com/warrior_odyssey

See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on  http://www.blackbeltmag.com

website

www.speakingadventure.com

Twitter

http://twitter.com/Brooklynmonk

facebook

Brooklyn Monk fan page

Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE

http://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1

 

Brooklyn Monk in 3D

Order the download at http://3dguy.tv/brooklyn-monk-in-3d/

Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

http://brooklynmonk.podomatic.com

Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

http://brooklynmonk.podomatic.com