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Talking Translation: Jasmine Alexander

Talking Translation

For this special post in our Talking Translation series we're delighted to be joined by Jasmine Alexander, the winner of our fourth Bai Meigui Translation Competition! This was the first year that our competition has been open exclusively to secondary school students, and we were incredibly impressed by the quality of the entries.

The competition text which Jasmine translated was Happy Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节快乐 by Meng Yanan 孟亚楠, who is the featured author this month on our Book Club. You can find out more about Meng's work there, as well as details of Jasmine's prize-winning translation, which will be published this month by Balestier Press! Jasmine was mentored by award-winning translator Helen Wang, who was one of this year's competition judges.

Jasmine lives in London and has been learning Chinese for five years at school. After she leaves school next year, Jasmine plans to study Social Anthropology at university and then, after graduation, to live in China for a few years, to become completely fluent in Mandarin.

What got you interested in studying Chinese?

I think my partially Chinese background naturally instigated my interest because this part of my identity was something I had always wanted to explore. I took up Chinese at school in Year 9 and I immediately became fascinated in it from all aspects. Learning about the language as well as the culture and history of China sparked an interest in me that I knew I had to take further, hence why I’ve carried on studying the subject ever since.

What are the most rewarding/most challenging aspects of learning Chinese?

The mere fact that learning a language opens up a means to communicate with people from other countries and cultures is just incredible. The thought that knowing a few simple Chinese phrases allows you to talk to 1.4billion people never ceases to amaze me. The most challenging aspect of learning Chinese I’d say is probably learning to write all the characters although this is actually the part of Chinese I love the most. I think Chinese characters are beautiful, every single one being a little work of art. Therefore despite every stroke having the power to change the meaning of a word, when you get it right it’s just so satisfying!

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about taking up Chinese, but worried that it's 'too difficult’?

I’d say just go for it because something being ‘too difficult’ should never be a reason for you not to try it out! It may seem a little complex at first glance but once you start learning you’ll soon find that it’s not as bad as it seems, there’s a pattern and reason for everything that once you understand will just become second nature to you.

Why did you decide to enter this competition?

I thought that this would be a great way for me to show myself that I could actually use the language skills I had been learning and developing for the past 5 years in a real world context. Especially after reading the story, I just couldn’t help but want to translate it!

What did you like most about Happy Mid-Autumn Festival?

I just adore that it’s an incredibly written and illustrated story book that enables a wider audience to learn about such an amazing and unique part of Chinese culture. The Mid-Autumn Festival is not always the most widely known Chinese festival to a western audience so I think this is a great way to educate children about this celebration and share it with them.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of working on this translation?

The whole process was just a remarkable experience. I learnt so much from my mentor Helen Wang who guided me through the process, teaching me so much about the world of translating as well as the publishing of multi-lingual books. In terms of the actual translating, I absolutely loved the challenge of thinking of an English word that not only translates the Chinese word but also the tone and atmosphere of it. Even though it can be difficult sometime to find the “perfect” word, when you do find a word that fits just right it’s an incredible feeling.
Do you have any advice for other students who are studying Chinese and thinking about having a go at translating?
Translating is such a rewarding experience because it allows you to utilise your Chinese in a way that is both practical and fun. You can think of it as essentially building a bridge between two languages and what could be more fulfilling than that? So believe in yourself and what you know and you’ll be able to do it!

Thank you, Jasmine!

If you're inspired by Jasmine and want to get involved, we'll be announcing details of our next translation competition (open to all) shortly. You can also apply to join our Reading Chinese Book Review Network, to find out more about Chinese fiction currently being published in English. And if you're a teacher or a student you can find more stories and information on our Resources for Schools page.