Oral history project – transcribing and translating

Over the last few months, we were busy working on a Chinese oral history project for a Manchester-based arts organisation. This job first involved transcribing interviews conducted in Cantonese into Mandarin, then translating the texts into English. For each interview, we produced three documents, i.e. traditional Chinese text, simplified Chinese text and English text.

Each stage of the work brings different challenges. To transcribe oral Cantonese into Mandarin text, we needed to consider the differences between oral expression and written languages such as repetition, word order, and omissions. Some interviewees used a mix of Cantonese and English and often their English pronunciation and intelligibility were problematic. Our expertise and local knowledge helped guide us through this. For projects of this nature (translating Chinese text into English) there were lots of omissions in oral expression and it was not always clear what the interviewees were referring to. Furthermore, the translators had to figure things out from the context and put additional information in brackets so that the readers could understand and follow.

Work of this nature can take a lot longer than anticipated. Despite speaking for the same duration, speakers can talk at different speeds and some can generate longer texts than others. We advise our fellow translators to take notice of this when quoting their prices.