Updated: Jul 17
Chinese challenges, English writing competitions and Japanese speech contests; even a couple of experiences with French haiku-writing. I’d thought I’d seen it all, but there was something missing in the plethora of language-related contests in Singapore: translation.
Not English-Chinese translation, no; there was never a lack of translation contests from English to any of the other three official languages Singapore had (Chinese, Malay and Tamil) or vice versa, but I had not observed many opportunities for English-foreign language translation competitions.
After having considered this, I decided that there was no better organiser than Polyglot Club SG for this event. Given the nature of our club, we had members who studied French, Japanese, Spanish and German as third languages in school, and hence were able to aid in organising the Nationwide Foreign Language Translation Competition, which aimed to both increase students’ interest in foreign languages and cultivate a passion for translation and their mother tongues.
Due to several restrictions, we decided to start out small: there were to be three categories, French, Japanese and Spanish, and participants would have to translate texts from any one of these languages to both English and Mandarin Chinese, as a tribute to the bilingual education system in Singapore. In future years, we intend to expand the categories to include German to English and Chinese translation, as well as possibly include other official languages of Singapore.
Another issue was the funding. Being a strictly not-for-profit organisation and lacking funds (I have, incidentally, been keeping this website up through stints as balloon sculptors at birthday parties), we had to find a way to somehow pay for the awards.
More information can be found here, where I go into detail about the organisation of the competition, including the generous help of Agape School of Education and the honour of receiving the National Translation Committee’s Community In-Translation, or CITEG grant.
The selection of the texts were done by our experienced language teachers and professionals who have done in-depth research about languages, which include A/P Rebecca Lurie Starr from the National University of Singapore.
For Japanese, the text was Totto-chan: the Little Girl at the Window, a book about the unconventional education that the author received during WWII as a message to students to encourage them to attend school. It has since become the bestselling book in Japanese history and has been translated to a multitude of languages, including English, Korean, Thai, Russian etc.
As for French, we selected the Little Prince, which is the second most translated work in the world, into 505 different languages and dialects worldwide. It is arguably one of the most influential, if not the most influential French book ever written, and was hence a natural choice for a translation competition.
It was interesting to see, for example, the new takes that young people of our generation had and the new ways contestants phrased a classic in translation. Given that it’s one of the most translated works in the world, it was only natural that contestants try their hand at translating it too in a translation competition!
The Spanish text chosen was Captain Alatriste - a series of novels by Arturo Perez-Reverte detailing the story of a retired Spanish soldier in the 17th century.
We aimed to select texts that were suited to the difficulty level of students studying in the Ministry of Education Language Centres in Singapore, or the MOELC, which offered all three of the foreign languages included in this competition. The level of the texts would be around an A2/B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) scale, as that was the average level of the contestants from both secondary schools and junior colleges.
As participants had to translate the famous literary text from a foreign language to both English and Mandarin Chinese, we judged the fluency and suitability of the words used in the translated product in both languages. In addition, we also judged the accuracy of the translated product and the suitability of the translated product to the reading ability and level of ease of understanding of the target audience: young people in secondary schools and junior colleges of Singapore.
We also organised an optional translation workshop the weekend before the release of the competition texts to introduce contestants, many of which were first-time translators, to the basics of translation.
Polyglot Club SG would also like to thank our >200 participants for sending in insightful and accurate translations for the contest - we wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without your ardent support and every single one of the entries showed spectacular understanding of the texts and an outstanding grasp of the languages involved.
Unfortunately, we were only able to select a handful of winners and awardees for the Honourable Mention award, who produced entries we felt were worthy of high praise but sadly did not have sufficient winning awards for.
WINNERS & JUDGES
We would like to sincerely thank all participants, the National Translation Committee, and Agape School of Education for their constant support, and the judges for their continued guidance and aid: A/P Rebecca Lurie Starr, Mr Gilbert Ndiaye, Mr Borja Francisco Vazquez Merchante, Mdm Zhang Hao, and Mdm Mu Jun.
A heartfelt congratulations to all winners, the full list of which will not be disclosed due to privacy reasons.
Thank you to each and every one of you for helping us promote translation, and may the love for foreign languages always burn bright!