Saturday, April 24, 2010

even if you knew, would it help?

Before my class yesterday, Belinda asked for my help with in translating something from English into Spanish. She's one of the Chinese teachers; they're both from China, and I don't know about the other teacher, but Belinda's English and Spanish are both kind of low intermediate. I'm not sure why she asked me, instead of someone who, say, speaks Spanish, but I'm happy to help.

At the appointed time, she shows me a list, with Chinese characters on the left and English translations on the right. She points to the first one, which I duly examine, and find:
  • International Paper-cut Fine Works
Which strikes me as an excellent Dadaist company name worth remembering, but doesn't actually make any sense. I explain what a "paper-cut" is in English, and how that can't be what they meant, and what exactly am I looking at? Translation without context: difficult to impossible. (Something to do with the art of intricate paper-cutting.)

Book titles, she said.

Ooookay. I scan down the list of nearly 30 books.
  • Catching the Red Boy
  • Monkey Makes Chaos In Heaven
  • 100 Chinese Two-Part Allegories
  • Advanced Chinese for Business
"What are these books for?"

"For the students. Translate the titles, but then students can't find the books."

I think these are the books the Ministry wants her to use in her class. Notwithstanding the quantity of material, most of the books are in Chinese and English, and the students can't read either one. So the school asked her to translate the titles (already translated into English) into Spanish, I think to enter into the computer for some reason? She seemed very confused, and we were having trouble communicating.

Finally I said, "You know, I am often lost here, because I'm not from this culture either. If they say you need to translate the titles, you just have to translate the titles. It's probably not important to know why."

And if it is, you'll find that out, too.

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