Department of Modern Languages and Cultures

Yvonne Lee, Assistant Professor in Chinese-English Translation and Interpreting

Yvonne Lee is an Assistant Professor and leads on the Chinese-English Translation and Interpreting MA.

She spoke to us about how the course prepares students for a career in the industry, how they are supported whilst at the university and why it is so important to be curious.

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What led you to a career in academia?

"I've always had a keen interest in languages and have had quite an interesting career path into academia. Before teaching, I worked in a variety of language-focussed roles. I've worked as an interpreter and translator but also as an editor and journalist for a publishing house. It was during this time I realised my interests lay in looking at how translation works to mobilise people in societies, so I did a translating and interpreting masters which led onto a PhD.

I use my industry experience quite a lot in my teaching, I share some of my past work and ask students to see how they would approach it. This demonstrates how their new skills may be applied in real-life situations."

What are your research interests?

"The common theme through my research is user generated content (UGC), it started with my PhD thesis which looked at how 2.0 websites work and how users interacted with them. This led me into looking at user generated subtitles, and now I'm looking at a broader picture of how people use translation as a means to generate content. For example, there are volunteer translators translating news stories, features and sometimes even blogs or micro media posts into English from Chinese or visa versa, enabling people who don't have that language to see what other people are saying and doing." 

Students are usually rather excited when they hear about my research interests. They can see we'll be looking beyond the process of translation and discover what translation can achieve. They won't just be producing texts passively, they'll be using their new skills actively, to do something with a real purpose.

What are the key areas covered on the Chinese/English translation and interpreting MA?

"As the difference between the two languages is so vast, I think it's important we have a dedicated Chinese/English course. This allows us to teach the specific translation and interpreting skills needed.

Initially, we cover the basics of translation, interpretation and translation management. Then we move onto a more advanced level where students focus on what really interests them, whether that be translation, interpreting or technology. This allows them to start becoming specialised in their area of interest.

During the MA we cover a range of professional skills required within the industry. This means that upon graduation, students know they have the right skills to find a job in the language service sector. Whether they want to become a localisation manager, a translator or conference interpreter they will be able to say 'look, I've been trained in this'."

How do we support the transition to the UK education system?

"On this course, we have students from many Chinese, and English, speaking countries; Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, China, the United Kingdom and America. To help them transition to the UK education system we offer our Chinese-speaking students a module called English Language for Language Professionals. This module covers not only academic skills such as how to write an essay, quoting and referencing, but also how to critique and how to become a competent researcher at postgraduate level. We want to make sure they don't feel thrown in at the deep end.

We work with Centre for English Language Education to tailor this module for our Chinese-speaking students because we recognise that although English is not their native language, they tend to have a better proficiency level than other Chinese international students. So we wanted to build a really tailored module to meet their needs, not just linguistically, but also culturally."

Why would you recommend the University of Nottingham for studying Chinese/English translation and interpreting?

"In addition to teaching how to translate and interpret, we place a big emphasis on equipping students with the skills that are required by recruiters in the language services industry. This means we have a lot of technology focused modules to prepare our students for the future."

We often have our alumni come back to us and say that we gave them the skills which led to them getting jobs in big locaslisation companies or large translation service providers. Our aim is to make students industry ready, and I'm proud to say this is what we do.

What are the qualities needed in a student to do well on this course?

"In addition to being a very keen linguist, a healthy level of curiosity will be great. That is because whether you're trying to be a good translator or interpreter, you need to know a little bit of everything in order to translate well. So if you're going to translate a user's manual for Novavax, you'll need to know what kind of language to use. Likewise, if translating at a high level diplomatic conference, you need to know the language style expected when delivering speeches on a podium. So a healthy level of curiosity will allow students to actually go and look for things that they need to know in order to prepare themselves for those situations." 

I often get asked if there is particular personality type that makes a good translator or interpreter. This can come from a preconception that interpreters are performers and translators are scholars. I say there is a lot of overlap and according to personal preferences you will naturally gravitate towards one or the other. But at this level, it's more important to have that curiosity and the faith that we will train you in a way that will build up your confidence. That is what we're here for, we're not going to try to defeat you or embarrass you. We want to help you get to where you want to be.

If a student ever feels they need help, where can they turn?

"I think the first port of call would be me because I'm a personal tutor, I can help with all sorts of academic worries and of course other things. I used to be an international student in this country so I know what it is like, I'm able to empathise with them, I know how it feels and how to overcome some of the problems they may encounter. 

There is also Centre for English Language Education if they need additional help with writing, speaking or listening skills." 

What careers have past students from these courses gone on to?

"More and more students are working in localisation which is very, very big everywhere in the world right now. And of course, we have students who work as full time translators and interpreters in the langauge services industry. Another common career choice is language teaching."

What advice do you have for people considering studying with us?

Be curious...

"Be curious. I don't say this lightly. Sometimes we have students who perhaps haven't been abroad very much before, and in that case it's easy to feel intimidated by the new environment and become reserved. I advise students to engage with the environment and community as much as possible, this will help them to get so much more out of their year with us."

Department of Modern Languages and Cultures

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