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Found in translation

Jinfang Tian

Meet Jinfang Tian, a poet who is applying her love of languages to the Master of Advanced Translation. 

Jinfang Tian has always loved language. She says she inherited a natural gift for rhymes and word-play from her father, and that over the decade she has spent studying translation and literature at university, she has just been “following my nature and doing what I love”.

“I started to study Western literature when I was an undergrad, then I moved to contemporary and modern Chinese when I was a master’s student in Shanghai, but now I have settled into classical Chinese literature because it’s my roots,” she says. “I was brought up in the traditional Chinese way, so I feel that cultural atmosphere in my blood. You’re always connected with that truly Asian tradition, one way or another. The feeling is always there.”

Jinfang came to ANU to complete a Master of Advanced Translation in order to improve her studies of classical poetry translated from Chinese into English.

“It was very challenging since I’m not an English native speaker, so I thought it would be good for me to discuss the translation with a scholar who is an English native speaker. So I searched around the world in the field of Sinology and translation studies, and I found ANU, a top-ranked university with a program of translation studies, and the staff are just the people I needed contact with. John Minford, in particular, is a very famous academic and a key figure in the tradition of British Sinology.”

She says she is more than happy with the results.

“The courses I chose were very inspiring and they were conducted in English, so I improved my English a great deal in terms of writing, speaking and listening. The courses are perfectly structured so that there are foundation courses, professional courses and elective courses. For my electives I chose linguistics, to make use of the linguistics resources here at ANU. This helped me to build a very sound foundation for my translation. Before that, my English was okay but I couldn’t write it very well. I made grammatical mistakes frequently and I dared not to write it. Now, my friends are surprised by what I write. They say, ‘You have improved so much!’ I have had so much opportunity to practice.”

But Jinfang warns that a Master of Advanced Translation, with its literary focus, is not for students looking for a vocational English-language degree.

“I would recommend this course to students who are really interested in translation studies and who have a passion to become an academic. It’s a good program for them to improve themselves very quickly. If you just want a practical job in the future or if you’re not passionate about languages, it’s not a good course for you; it’s not very useful for an ordinary job seeker on the job market.”

For Jinfang, there’s nothing ordinary about translation, a skill she says comes as much from passion and feeling, as technique and practice.

“The Master of Translation equips you with the theory and training, but literary translation is not a science; it’s an art. You can’t judge one translation as good and one translation as bad against some kind of universal criterion. You just enjoy their creativities. It’s almost like the original text is like the mother, and the different versions of the translation are like children. Some children behave well and are faithful to the original, but some children want to do their own thing. You just need to enjoy it.”


Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team