12 April 2016

Soochow University Students Use Translation Expertise to Advance the Work of the UN
















Soochow University, which just last year became a member of United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), has been translating the Yearbook Express for the Yearbook Unit of the United Nations Department of Public Information since 2014.

This work, which the University has incorporated into an innovative curriculum for its Master of Translation and Interpreting (MTI) students, represents a substantial contribution to bringing the Yearbook of the United Nations—the authoritative reference on the annual activities and concerns of the Organization—closer to the people served by the United Nations. So far, the University—located in Suzhou, East China—has prepared eight Chinese editions of the multilingual Yearbook Express, with more to come.

The Yearbook Express, published on the website of the Yearbook, provides summarized Yearbook content in all six United Nations official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) by featuring the chapter introductions of recent Yearbooks along with the report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization.

Through the collaborative platform of UNAI, and in its Yearbook Express translation project, the University sees itself as shouldering part of its intellectual social responsibility in helping realize the purposes and mandate of the United Nations.

Soochow University Lecturer Zeng Yan attributes the success of the curriculum to a 3-step procedure developed by MTI Professor Wang Hong. The students—about 50 participate in the course—first read relevant material and research United Nations terminology before rendering the Express into Chinese. Four professors of translation then revise and comment on the translations. Finally, Ms. Zeng polishes the resulting product for submission to the Yearbook Unit with a view to accuracy, clarity, conciseness and consistency across the board.

The biggest challenge faced by students lies in successfully translating the myriad of technical terms and phrases that define the work of the United Nations, including the names of organizations and special United Nations activities. Students are required to regularly check the multilingual terminology database UN-Term or the online Official Document System in order to align their results with the accepted translation. The University has also established a terminology database of its own that includes all the unique terms that students have encountered during their work and whose translations have been confirmed by United Nations sources.

The curriculum provides an unparalleled opportunity for MTI students to gain rewarding hands-on experience with real United Nations material and in working to meet actual United Nations requirements and standards. As one student remarks: “After translating UN documents for a semester, I feel that my translation competence has been reinforced. It is also easier for me to deal with long and complicated sentences.” Another student comments: “The Express translation is a combination of independent thinking and group collaboration. We develop a sense of responsibility as well as a sense of achievement.” A fellow student, who finds that the work also helps broaden her horizons in terms of international affairs, avers: “I am extremely proud of engaging in this translation project and getting in touch with the United Nations.”

The Yearbook Unit—which apart from its cooperation with Soochow University works with teams of translators recruited through the United Nations Volunteers Online Volunteering Service—deeply appreciates the high-quality translations produced by Soochow University and would welcome similar forms of collaboration with other academic institutions in translating the Yearbook Express into other United Nations official languages.