MA Translation (ZH->ENG)

I’ve been a freelancer for 2 years now and I have decided to go and get some kind of credential to help me further establish myself.

I have started to look around at courses here and have so far found two- one at Shi-Da and the other at Fu-Jen. I’m wondering how picky they are about who they let in since I don’t have a degree in Chinese (though I do have a degree). I’ve heard all sorts ranging from “it depends on who you know”- right up to “I’m tellin ya man- they are desperate to make government quotas for foreigners in their schools- they’ll even give you a scholarship”

I’m not concerned about scholarships at this stage- I just want to hear some opinions on getting in.

You don’t need a degree in Chinese specifically (any more than the Taiwanese candidates need a degree specifically in English).

I think that Fujen, at least, is beginning to be a bit more selective about what foreigners they let in. Fujen in general has had big issues in recent years over the professional exams it has given (i.e., after being trained in their program and receiving top grades for 2 years, students flunk the professional exams) which for my money points to an institutional problem that has to be resolved. I’m not saying every student ought to pass automatically, but you might expect that if a student does the program and achieves well, the exit test should not be a huge problem for more than a handful of students.

I’m not aware of any foreigners admitted to the Chinese/English group at Fujen this year. There is an exchange student on the second year of the interpreting course but he seems to be more a native speaker of German so far as my ear told me, so I’m not sure how that will impact his experience.

I was out at Fujen about 2 weeks ago and heard that this year, ALL first-year students are in the “mixed” group. Used to be they would admit people for just translation or just interpreting. I don’t know how this will impact the test or what you would need to be able to do to get in (if they expect you to pass an interpreting exam to get in, that might or might not be a problem depending on your own experience and talents). I imagine they will give all of them basic interpreting coursework the first year and then “urge” some of them not to keep on with the interpreting.

If you truly think you will learn much about C>E translation in a Taiwanese program where all the students have the opposite native language you have – think again. All my translation courses at Fujen were of very limited value to me. The into-English was too easy, and my classmates needed to learn how to write accurate English, which was not one of my problems. Going the other way, I needed to learn how to write accurate and native-like Chinese, which was not my classmates’ problem – and naturally, not only did the majority rule, but the faculty were not prepared to address the issues of non-native-speakers of Chinese. Things may have changed – but be sure to inquire about who will be teaching your classes and who will be taking them with you.

If you need an MA for some reason, that might be another story. Also, if you are already working as a translator, you may find that the courses in Taiwan are highly theoretical, or at least have little to do with the kind of jobs we typically do for Chinese>English, and there is little content related to running a business, professional development, CAT tools, Internet and translators, self-promotion, etc. etc.

One class new this year at Fujen is “advanced Chinese for foreigner interpreters/translators”, which is supposed to be quite good, based on word-of-mouth from a student who had just been in the first session.

By the very nature of oral vs. written language, it’s easier to get something out of interpreting classes into your B language, because more of what you produce will be acceptable in spoken language than in written language. Translation into your B is not only not commercially useful for a native English speaker (Western professional translators work only into their native language for written translations), it can be a downright waste of time. We were assigned New York Times movie reviews for translation – the focus was on being able to understand the English, but the nuance required was not something that was useful to me as a practitioner and certainly nothing I would ever take on for work into Chinese.

I think there are a foreigner or two in the Shida group right now, but I’m not familiar with their program as much as Fujen’s. I think that you will get more individualized attention at Fujen if you can get in out there, just through sheer mathematics of smaller class sizes. The faculty are pretty much the same at both places anyway. Shida wins on location for some people, although I commuted from Taipei to Fujen my second year and it was okay (I lived on the 235 bus line and it only gave me time for quality flash card time).

Sorry for the random thoughts, sort of a data dump. The main thing to think about is do you expect to actually learn a lot vs do you need a degree, and how are you going to ensure that you get what you need (as a native English speaker) from programs designed for native Chinese speakers.

Great Response!

No, I don’t actually think I will learn much in the way of skills transferable to my work- and yes, I think I need the qualification.

On the other hand- I think that at least my Chinese would improve somewhat if I ended up having to translate into it for coursework (I know that professionals only translate into their native language…), and I’m trying to teach myself how to use CAT tools already.

I was thinking about going home to the UK for a while and doing an MA at London Imperial University- they have a course that focusses on science and medical translation- and one or two more general courses. But I have decided to stay in Taiwan- for other reasons.

All first years in the mixed group?? Having no experience-I’m not sure that I could pass an interpreting test- but according to their website, it looks like they at least had separate tests. I wouldn’t mind at all being in interpretation classes until I got kicked off :smiley:

Anyway, thanks for the reply - It won’t do any harm to apply next year and see what happens.

You would probably learn more useful Chinese from an interpreting class than from what passes as translation classes in Taiwan. I’m sure they’re fine (??!?) if you’re a native Chinese speaker, but there is no thought whatsoever given to what native English speakers need to improve their into-Chinese translation (if we even believed this was of much value to us). On the other hand, everyone seems to take it for granted that Chinese students can translate into English (causing other problems, as mentioned above, in the into-English classes.)

Go for it, though. All they can do is reject you - and if you’re persistent, they will probably let you in in the end. Worked for me!! :wink:

Just curious – why do you feel you need the qualification? I ask this because I’ve also considered doing the MA at Fu Jen primarily to have “the qualification” (a higher degree – I currently also have only a BA). Here are some pluses and minuses that I listed for myself when considering this:


  1. I believe some translator accreditation associations (including the American Translator’s Association? - though I don’t think they offer C-E accreditation yet) are requiring candidates to have an MA in the field before they may take accreditation exams offered by the association. Note, though, that accreditation and academic degrees are rarely a factor in getting freelance translation work in Taiwan (though they may look good on a resume) – reputation and sheer experience are much more important factors. This is generally true for in-house positions as well, although degrees and certifications may carry a little more weight for such positions.

  2. Taiwan universities generally like to see at least an MA when hiring instructors. (Although it is possible to get an instructor position without an MA at some universities if you can demonstrate extensive professional experience, publications, and/or awards.

  3. Chance to learn from instructors. I teach a C-E legal translation course at Fu Jen and I believe the students get a lot out of it, and some of the other courses as well. (I think the caliber of C-E translation instruction has improved a bit since Ironlady was there, as I know two other excellent C-E translators who have recently joined the part-time faculty.) However, see my reservations about existing academic programs for training translators in the first point below.


  1. Iin line with Ironlady’s comments (and echoing some recent comments by Feijen on this subject), the most effective way to polish one’s translation skills is probably in an “apprenticeship” situation working together with more experienced translators (preferably having them directly edit your work and looking at their edits) in an actual job setting, whether in-house at a good translation agency or in a translation department in a business or agency (these might include law firms, securities houses, a newspaper, or a government agency such as the GIO). Having met you briefly at a HH and read some of your past posts, my impression is that you would be some ways ahead of most of the ingoing Fu Jen students in terms of language and translation skills, aptitudes, and experience. These comments apply to translation only – if you are interested in oral interpretation, then a formal training program somewhere is definitely in order.

  2. If you want the qualification because you feel you might be interested in pursuing academics as a career, or even as a sideline, then you might consider a program that is tracked directly toward a PhD, because increasingly, universities are looking for PhD degrees, even just for instructor positions.

My own decision, so far, has been to wait and see. At present, lack of an advanced degree has had absolutely no bearing on my professional opportunities. At some point I may do a degree, but I would be inclined to do one that would lead directly, or easily, into a PhD program, just to keep my options open in that direction.

I replied to this but it doesn’t seem to have been saved…??

Anyway, I checked the ATA requirements again just for the fun of it. There are various ways you can become “eligible” to take the exam:

For what it’s worth – because of course now you have to “maintain” your certification through tier Continuing Education requirements, and anyway as RS pointed out there is not a C>E exam at present (and not likely to be in the near future, AFAIK.)

Also, please don’t misunderstand me. I wasn’t saying the translation instruction was necessarily BAD (and I haven’t seen or heard that it has changed radically in the two years since I left), but instructors were unwilling to devote additional time and energy to address the idiosyncratic needs of the one student whose combination was the reverse of that of most of the students.



I’m going to try and revive this topic because I think my question falls under here (let me know if I’m wrong).

So I’m interested in getting a MA in Translation at Shida (now also Fujen, based on this and other threads) but I have no experience in translation and my Chinese is currently at HSK 3-4 level. I’m going to be taking intensive Chinese next school year but I wanted to know how difficult it is to get into these programs. I’m worried that my Chinese will fail me in this case.

Would they be teaching me from scratch or would they assume I already have experience? (Speaking of, how do I get experience?)

I’m going to sound incredibly negative so brace yourself.

They will not teach you much at all. Don’t go into such a program as a non-native Chinese speaker and expect to be taught. DEFINITELY not language. They’re starting to run “language improvement” courses for the interpreting courses, but it’s really random. Very few people are working systematically on how you take a student from Chinese class level to professional level.

If you’re in Taipei, one thing you may want to look into is auditing an interpreting class at Shita. Chris Findler teaches the Chinese>English consecutive class and has a setup where he pairs students (Chinese A/English A) so they can work with each other intensively during class and on homework, so he’s usually looking for more English-As to audit the class. It’s been pretty full in recent semesters though so unless they get him a bigger room or something, I don’t know.

The T&I programs in Taiwan are (not surprisingly) geared towards native Chinese speakers. In a group translation class, for example, instruction is usually about how to write English correctly and grammatically (which should not be a problem for you if you’re going into an MA in Translation program as a native English speaker; if it is, there are other considerations for you). They rarely have an instructor who has the time or experience to work with a native English speaker on improving a translation. So for the into-English, if your meaning is accurate (and if it isn’t, the response is just “that’s not what it means”) you’ll get “okay”, and for into-Chinese, you’ll typically get lots of corrections (with luck) but you won’t have any idea why they are being made.

You might get some better insights working with a Chinese-A classmate one-on-one or in a small group, “trading” your nativeness in English. But there again, the way an English-A writes a translation is not how a Chinese-A should be aiming to do so in most cases, even if both are translating into English.

Also think about this hard truth: the translation market is shrinking rapidly. Rates are dropping and have been for some time. I know a very experienced freelancer in Taipei who told me the other day that s/he had had only 7 jobs in the last 6 months, and those were for 1000 words or so. That’s not nearly enough to live on. My experience here in the US is similar. There is much, much less work than before, and many potential clients are offering “budgets” that aren’t worth the time to do the work.

I honestly would not recommend that anyone go into translation or interpreting as a major these days, nor would I recommend that anyone think of trying to make a living only on the basis of knowing Chinese (or any other language) well, unless you like being a full-time military linguist or working in the intelligence community. If you’re willing to do that, maybe.

Now about Chinese level. HSK3-4 is not enough to be a professional translator. Wait until you get to HSK6 and then it won’t be as far to get to the level you’ll need. I doubt you’d pass the entrance exam now, which (again) is usually geared to native speakers.

The programs aren’t interested in experience AFAIK. Often if you do have experience, it works against you, because Chinese academic programs have a very strong hierarchy and they don’t really want too much input from students. If you’ve been working as a professional on the market, you will have different ideas about how to do translation (and probably won’t have any stomach for a bunch of theories and arguing about which one to apply for a given translation). I sat in on a class at Fujen last year in which they were having that discussion, and interestingly the prof (who was experience on the market) was arguing against many of the students that theory wasn’t that useful in the real world. But theory is what PhD programs live on, and it’s trickling down to the MA level which is supposed to be a professional degree, not a research degree.

You mention “next school year”. If you’re talking about taking one more year of college Chinese, I’m not optimistic about your chances. You would most likely have to relocate to China or Taiwan for a year or more and spend your time reading intensively and really working the language to be able to pass the entrance exam.

Personally – and I love Chinese language and always have – I would look into doing something else. Keep on with your Chinese for the love of it, and as a supplement to another documented skill or degree, but don’t look at Chinese as a sole means to make a living.

Just my NT$0.66, your mileage may vary, but this is the trend I see and cry about myself.

Thanks for your input.

I honestly don’t know what to do myself. I love learning Chinese but I don’t know what I can do with it, if translation is not longer lucrative. I’m currently teaching in China and my BA is in English teaching so I feel like I dug myself into a hole. :sweat:

What would you recommend as a different career path for those interested in translation/interpretation but probably won’t get off the ground?

Be a Chinese-speaking [anything else].
Not just a “Chinese-speaker”.

I can’t even predict some of the jobs that will be available in 5 or 10 years. There will be new things that don’t even exist now. But whether you pick something that’s out there now or something as yet unimagined, make your language excellence a bonus, not the main course. That’s my view on it, at least.

I truly believe that with very, very few exceptions, we’ve seen the last generation of people who can make a living solely off language skill.