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Translation and Interpretation Programs in China

By Kizito Tekwa

Translation and interpretation programs were first set in China in the 1980s1 and constituted a part of the faculty of languages and literature or linguistics. However, as China’s economy expanded, the crucial need for translators and interpreters in all sectors of the economy and government soon developed. That led, in 2000, to the inclusion, for the first time, of interpretation in the National Syllabus Guidelines as a compulsory course for undergraduate English majors. As a consequence of the new focus on translation and interpretation, programs began mushrooming around the country. For instance, in 2007, there were 15 Master in translation and interpretation (MTI) programs; by 2022, the number had increased to 2532. Moreover, with an increasing number of universities applying to run both the bachelor of translation and interpretation (BTI) and MTI programs, the number is projected to rise in the future. 

Who enrolls in the programs? 

Most BTI programs are offered by the English or Linguistics departments of faculties, which either offer independent BTI programs or merge them with other programs. For instance, students majoring in English could specialize in translation or interpretation in the third or fourth year. In other universities, for instance Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, translation and interpretation are offered to students majoring in other disciplines, including business and finance, the goal being for them to develop competence in translation and interpretation in their areas of specialization. Therefore, because students in BTI programs do not specialize in translation for the entire program length, they are not sufficiently equipped to work as professional translators or interpreters upon graduation. 

Consequently, some students take the entrance examination to enroll in MTI programs offered by an increasing number of graduate programs. Each MTI program runs its own entrance examination and admits its own students based on their specific needs. In terms of how they are organized, most MTI programs offer programs in translation (MT), interpretation (MI), and translation studies (MA). It is also worth noting that MTI programs offered in industry-specific universities tend to design their programs to align with the needs of the specific industry3. Because trainees spend two to three years (depending on the length of the program) translating and/or interpreting, graduates of MTI programs possess the skills and competence to work as professional translators. 

Which courses are offered? 

Students learn a variety of courses in both BTI and MTI programs. While courses at the BTI are streamlined because students may belong to other disciplines, courses at the MTI level are more diversified. Besides core courses in translation and interpretation, students are obliged to take courses on civic education, communist party ideology, and Chinese history and culture. As translators and interpreters, it is believed that profound knowledge of China’s political and cultural context is pivotal in their practice. The programs have recently introduced technology-based courses following the increasing technologization of the translation industry. Courses in computer-assisted translation, localization, project management, and, sometimes, technical writing are now offered by many programs4

Teaching and alignment with the industry 

Despite the multiplicity of courses offered in both BTI and MTI programs, a significant challenge remains the need to harmonize them across the country. Like most translation programs elsewhere, it is “chacun pour soi.” That means students who graduate from MTI programs offered by top language universities like Beijing Foreign Studies University, Shanghai International Studies University, or Guangdong University of Foreign Studies may have a higher level of competence due to the quality of course offered and the caliber of teachers. Another issue of significant importance is the training received by instructors in these programs. Chinese universities tend to privilege academic qualifications in their hiring process. Therefore, most teachers have no professional experience. Many have not worked as professional translators or interpreters on a full-time basis. Because MTI programs require teachers to conduct more research than teach, most trainers translate or interpret passively, randomly, and only when there is a clear benefit to the act. Given that they are not required to translate or interpret on a regular basis to keep their jobs, teachers do not see the need to liaise with the industry and keep abreast with modern technology. As Xu et al. summarize, “they hardly make any formal contact with the translation market; neither are they familiar with modern technologies used in translation and language service companies”5

What is the way forward? 

The intentions for setting up BTI and MTI programs in China are good, but the courses offered still need to reflect the full needs of the industry. Programs need to create stronger ties with the industry to improve their level of professionalism. Furthermore, there is a significant need to recruit teachers with professional experience and industry knowledge. The absence of trainers with in-depth professional knowledge of the field and core courses may be one of the reasons why some students graduate but cannot find jobs in the industry or move into adjacent industries like teaching, customer service, and manufacturing. 

Kizito Tekwa holds a PhD in Translation Studies from the University of Ottawa and is currently a Senior Lecturer in Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, Guangzhou, China.

1) Binhua, W., & Lei, M. (2009). Interpreter training and research in mainland China: Recent developments. Interpreting11(2), 267-283. 

2) Wang, Z., & Bukhari, N. (2022). Current Situation and Difficulties in Chinese MTI Teachers’ Sustainable Professional Development.

3) Xu, M., Zhao, T., & Zhong, W. (2020). On Translator Training in Industry-Specific Universities in China–A case study of 16 MTI programs. Lebende Sprachen65(1), 1-19.

4) Cui, Q. (2019). MTI programs: Teaching and learning. In Restructuring Translation Education (pp. 41-54). Springer, Singapore. 

5) Xu et al. (2020) p. 343.

6) Wu, Y., & Jiang, Z. (2021). Educating a Multilingual Workforce in Chinese universities: Employability of Master of Translation and Interpreting Graduates. Círculo de lingüística aplicada a la comunicación, (86), 1-16.

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