Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Translating Acupuncture Texts

The topic of Acupuncturist's translating Chinese medical texts came up in a discussion recently. Occasionally I'll run across articles where an American acupuncturist's states that he or she translated the original Chinese text for the article. For example, Bob Flaws, OMD, of Blue Poppy Press, is a prolific "translator" who, according to his biography, taught himself to read "medical Chinese". He has in the past offered courses on reading Medical Chinese. He has also published a book "Teach Yourself to Read Modern Medical Chinese: A Step-by-Step Workbook and Guide". The pitch for this books states: "Bob shares all the 'quick and dirty' methods he’s used to teach himself. You can begin translating modern medical Chinese within hours"
While I have never read the book, advertising the translation methods as "quick and dirty" or promising you can begin translating Chinese into English "within hours" makes it sound like a side-show carnival product.(1)
Don't be misled, Chinese is not an easy language to learn or translate.
The US Government classifies Mandarin Chinese as a Category IV language - one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn.
My concern is that Acupuncturists that read some of these "translated" articles or books take for granted that the translator is actually qualified to do that kind of work.
Those who want to translate and publish Chinese medical texts into English need to have a formal education in Chinese Language and translation from an institute of higher learning.
I propose passing Level 11 of the HSK exam as a minimum standard for translators of Chinese medical texts.
The HSK(2) is a standard test of Proficiency in Chinese language. The amount of words a person should know at the basic test level ranges from 400-3,000 Chinese words. In the advanced level HSK (Level 11) they should have knowledge of 5,000-8,000 words. According to the HSK website a person passing HSK Level 11 is proficient in Chinese at the advanced (high) level and can be regarded as qualified as an intermediate-level translator.

I also believe that a translator in the field of acupuncture should have the translations reviewed for accuracy by a translation committee prior to publication.

The whole purpose of setting high standards is to elevate the profession of acupuncture and make sure that accurate information is disseminated to practitioners.

(1) A reviewer on amazon.com said this about Bob Flaws book:
I would like to say though, I found the book not that helpful in two ways. 1) The terminology although has pinyin romanization, it lacks the intonation marks. While this book is for reading, tones added will make the book able to help those wanting to learn to speak or listen to Chinese. 2) The book is full of errors. The wrong characters are written and often the meaning is either too simple or in error...so many errors!

(2) For more information on Chinese Proficiency Tests see HSK

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Just as a follow up from one of the publishers of this book...yes, the original edition had way too many errors. It was subsequently proofed by a native Chinese speaker and the errors in the Chinese characters were, we believe, corrected in the second edition.
While we must concur that Chinese is not an "easy" language to learn, especially to speak, Bob has taught many, many students to translate simple Chinese language articles and those articles have, in fact, been published in even peer reviewed journals. While obviously not a perfect effort, at the time of publishing this book there were very few resources for interested students to even begin to learn Chinese unless they wanted to back to university to do so. The stated purpose of the book was to help students of Chinese medicine have the courage to learn enough Chinese to access at least the journal literature in the original language so that they are not solely dependent upon the inconsistent and confusing translations from various translators, including Bob's, for that matter. This is based on Bob's experience that even reading a few words in Chinese helps practitioners be more knowledgeable and effective clinicians. While not a perfect effort, it has proved a useful place to start for many students of Chinese medicine.
And it's true, Bob has never spent a single hour in a formal Chinese language class. He did learn it exactly as he describes in this book.
Honora Lee Wolfe