Translating training

11 Apr

I was lucky enough to attend a leadership training course recently which was conducted in English but the majority of participants  were Chinese.  We were talking about different concepts like engagement and accountability. After about 15 minutes the only mandarin speaking facilitator asked the group to define those two terms in Chinese.

The room was silent for a few moments and then people started shouting out possible translations which were all different.  It was an interesting lesson for me, those terms are used all the time, but obviously never clearly explained, never really translated.

I wonder how many other concepts that I use have a different meaning or multiple meanings in Chinese.  Or, to flip it around, when I speak chinese can I truly “translate” what I want to say?  Some concepts just don’t translate, they require a shared cultural experience.

The training may have been about leadership, but I took away a different lesson.

Have you had a similar experience?


2 Responses to “Translating training”

  1. stupiduglyforeigner April 13, 2013 at 3:43 am #

    I’ve had similar experiences, yeah, and it can be really interesting to try to translate yourself into a different language and wonder if you’re ever getting the real nuance across.

    Back in my first 6 months of Korean class, we were talking about Korean dramas and how we didn’t much like them. Our teacher asked why, and when we couldn’t come up with a translation we felt adequate, we just said “cheesy.” We then tried for the next hour and a half to explain cheesy, campy, ironic and all of the nuances between those in two languages.

    • gkm2011 April 14, 2013 at 10:00 am #

      Cheesy, yes literally and figuratively a challenge to translate. I have also had difficulty with the word “unsettled” meaning something is not quite right. Just doesn’t translate!

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