Freelance Translation

I’ve been a bit busy with Christmas, New Year’s, and all that fun stuff, but I have also been doing some freelance translation work. When I say freelance, I really mean freelance. As in unpaid. This is mostly for college students, since they are most in need of translating documents and have no money to pay with. It’s great for me since I get plenty of practice and it’s great for them since it’s, you know, free[*]. Anyway, thought I might share my recent work especially since I found the topic pretty interesting. Below are my thoughts and reflections which you may just want to skip to.

Original Text:


The Snare and Future of Western Objective Journalism

美國哥倫比亞大學新聞學院教授凱利(James W. Carey)曾經說,「新聞是民主的別稱———沒有民主就沒有新聞。」在相當一部分人眼中,新聞是民主社會發展的結果,認為「政治民主是近代新聞事業產生和發展的權利保證」;新聞媒體代表的是「第四種權力」,承擔著警戒和守望社會的職責,發揮著資訊功能與監督功能;新聞從業者是肩負社會責任感的「無冕之王」,猶如站在船橋上的瞭望者,為社會穩定和諧的發展、規避一切淺灘暗礁時刻警醒著。新聞職業對社會民主化所承載的責任,與其堅持的客觀性原則有著直接的關係。







The Snare and Future of Western Objective Journalism

Professor James W. Carey of Columbia University has said, “Journalism is another term for democracy—without democracy, there is no journalism”. In the eyes of most people, journalism is one of the results in the development of a democratic society. They believe, “Political democracy protects the rights of modern journalism to exist and develop”; that is, news media represents the “fourth type of authority”. It assumes the responsibility of alerting and safeguarding society, while providing information and supervising the government. Journalists are the uncrowned kings shouldering a sense of responsibility to society, similar to a lookout standing on the bridge of a ship. For the development of stability and harmony in society, they must always remain alert and evade every shallow reef. In professional journalism’s burden of responsibility to the democratic transformation of society, it is best to maintain the principle of objectivity and have a straightforward relationship to the viewers.

The ideal citizen—a “watchdog” or a “tamed dog”?

After the 1830’s, Western news media went through an industry revolution, finally moving away from the dark period of political partisan journalism. Step by step the commercialized newspaper formed into a certain degree of independent status that was not only objective, but also became a service to society. Through this brand of commercialized newspaper began the early stages of journalistic objectivity—“To have an independent and extensive approach, to look at the world and political affairs from the stance from the citizen’s point of view”. This kind of stance did not hinder a commercialized newspaper from making money; rather, because they pursued the “truth”, they won over even more of the population’s readership. Reporters, when covering a story, strictly adhered to finding the truth and facts. They avoided bias, did not embellish, and removed themselves from the story, writing only the facts so as to give the reader the chance to form their own opinions. This was the key to respecting journalistic objectivity in commercialized newspapers. Speaking with the facts, and truthfully recording events, brought age of progress to a society of free competition, and this represented an unprecedented objective approach to news reporting.

At the end of the 19th century, the concept of objectivity was deeply planted in the hearts and minds of those in the news industry and the population. In newspaper work, one must disregard and remove one’s preferences when gathering facts, and bring these facts to everyone to use so that they may form their own opinions. Western liberal journalism theory had developed into a golden age, where the media almost entirely exercised their rights of government supervision. This was an important force in ensuring the democratization of society. From this, the news industry workers labeled themselves as a “watchdog” for public interests. Objectivity became a kind of professional ideology that all journalists supported.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, mainstream media began to pay even closer attention to and following rigorously any political scandals, disclosing corruption, reporting on disasters, and wars. Objective journalism’s principle turned into a set of standardized article writing style and ideology. In line with this basic view, the writing norm should, for example, be that of separating fact from opinion, avoiding sensationalism, making use of comments from reliable sources, etc. However, the news media’s viewpoint of objectivity gradually became watered down to nothing, to the point that it was hard for people to believe the level of indifference the news media had. Compliance to the principle of objectivity in writing, due the news media’s homogenization, is increasingly grave.

In the 1990’s, following global economic integration, the free market ideology has turned into the leading force of the global economic system. Within the economic mechanism, the news media serves the community, but has turned profit into the main objective of their operations. That is, in every possible way the news media will present a product that fits the tastes and preferences of the viewers so as to maximize their profits. From this background, the viewer’s role as a citizen has become watered down, while awareness of the viewer as a consumer has been raised, and correspondingly, the news media offers “information on a bullet” to these new consumers as a new form of objectivity (giving consumers every kind of information and observation they need, following their own rationale and individual choices). The “information on a bullet” model makes employing news media to protect the process of democratizing society seem gradually further and further apart, and the pursuit of economic profit daily becoming the reality. In the mid to late 19th century, the pursuit of objectivity seems to have been seriously weakened. Like a bubble floating in the air, it is close enough that we can reach out and touch it, but then suddenly it turns into smoke and disappears. In other words, the “watchdog” has already degenerated into a “tamed dog”.


While it does still have some issues, but it still helps as practice. Some things I learned:

  1. I went too literal in many areas of the translation. I’ve found that doing “correct meaning” is much stronger than doing closer-to-literal translations. After the fact, I found a lot of people basically said that is the way you’re supposed to do it. Eh, novice mistake!
  2. Good lord, I hope you get a job translating documents you’re interested in. This article was fine for me, but I can see how, if you were doing work in something entirely uninteresting, you’d be bored as heck doing this.
  3. That being said, I did have some fun putting it into English, since I enjoy writing.
  4. The nicest part is always being exposed to Chinese material and learning new vocabulary and reading it in new contexts that will help you a lot.
  5. Monodicts are helpful here, too (believe it or not!), because it can help clarify the meaning of a word that an English dictionary leaves ambiguous.
  6. I think translating articles you find interesting (similar to those Manga scanlations; if I remember correctly, that is the right term) just for some practice. For example, what I would have done here if I had the time, would have been to write it over and gloss out some points to make things flow easier and fit into my own voice.
  7. And for my biggest point: Every translation is, as every translator, different. There is no perfect translation. I also believe this is why it is hard to learn from textbooks for languages. The best ability to have is the ability to get the meaning of a text and putting it into the best words in your language. Most importantly, having a knowledge of the source/target area is also very important (for example, the proper format and terminology of business or medical documents). So always be sure to know some terms exclusive to the field.

But enough out of me! What do you think? Anyone done any translation work before? Any opinions/thoughts on the field?

[*] This might be a really good untapped market to try for paid and unpaid translation work. Find a local university and, if possible, befriend the students. Might turn up some interesting opportunities for you!


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