March 23, 2022

MS in Translation & Interpreting Student Spotlight: Marianne Yeh

Can you share about your background and how you got into translation? 

I was born in Shanghai, China. Even though resources were scarce when I grew up, I started learning English at an early age. I remember being a loyal fan of the BBC English-teaching TV program called “Follow Me!” because it gave me a rare opportunity to learn “authentic” English from native speakers. Despite limited access, I found every opportunity to read classic and contemporary literature both in English and in Chinese translation.

I came to the United States as an undergraduate student in 1989. Upon graduation, I worked as a broadcaster at Voice of America (VOA), the radio station of the U.S. Information Agency, in Washington, DC. In addition to live radio shows, one of the main functions of my daily job was Chinese/English translation of news, editorial and feature pieces. I am eternally grateful for this incredibly challenging and rewarding hands-on learning experience.

What kind of work were you doing before enrolling in the MSTI program? And how did you make the choice to attend NYU?

I spent four years at VOA before going back to school for a master’s degree in Public Relations from the University of Maryland at College Park. For the following 20 years, I worked in the PR/Corporate Communications field in various organizations and corporations in the Washington, DC area. 

In 2018, I decided to leave the corporate world and start my own consultancy providing language and branding services, hoping to combine my corporate experience with my language skills to facilitate cultural appreciation and exchange. In 2021, I enrolled in NYU’s MSTI program to further my education and explore opportunities in the language industry. This feels like a full circle for me, going through the various stages of my career and coming back to my life-long passion in languages, literature, culture, history, political science, and communications. Now, in my second semester in the MSTI program, I must say that it is one of the best decisions I have made.

You’ve recently translated an essay, “Noble as Jade – My Teacher Ms. Xu,” written by a childhood friend of yours! Can you talk about how you chose this piece to translate and your work translating it? 

Over the winter break, I connected with my childhood friend, Wang Rong, who is the Director of the China Institute for Educational Finance Research (CIEFR) at Peking University. We hadn’t seen each other for more than 30 years and reminisced about the time in middle school when my mother (“Ms. Xu”) was our Chinese teacher. After our conversation, Wang wrote an essay about the influence my mother had on her career as well as the significance of my family’s struggle in relation to China’s education reform. The essay was published on CIEFR’s WeChat page and instantly received thousands of hits. Many of my mother’s former students left comments under the article. Moved by Wang’s narration and reflection, I asked for her permission to translate the essay into English. 

I am so happy to find myself applying what I’ve learned from the MSTI program to my translation process. I would like to thank the Academic Director of the MSTI program, Dr. Annelise Finegan, and my former colleague, Russell Woolard, who provided valuable guidance and editing to help me improve the target text. The translated essay is on my agency’s website.

An Except from Marianne's translation of "Noble as Jade - My Teacher Ms. Xu."

At that time, English was a completely foreign concept to us. In my junior high school, Marianne's English was far better than the rest of us. Under such peer influence, I started working hard on my English, too. It was widely known then that Ms. Xu and her family placed great emphasis on learning English. Uncle Zhu insisted on self-studying during the Cultural Revolution, and their son, Jonathan, was studying English and American literature in college.

Readers today have little idea how scarce the resources were back then. I remember in a summer during junior high school, my mother borrowed almost every single novel in their agency’s library, hoping I would spend my time reading instead of hanging out with friends. That summer, I read more than twenty novels popular at the time, such as Red Crag and Bitter Cauliflower. It wasn't until high school that I began to find books such as War and Peace and The Tale of Genji on the book stalls in front of our school. 

I started my own collection of classic literature from those stalls. Later, I realized that it was all the reading and explication in Ms. Xu’s classes that opened our eyes beyond the mundane life and the mandatory curriculum so we could appreciate the vastness of the world and the beauty of the Chinese language.

What is your favorite thing about translating?

I’ve always been fascinated with languages. When I see something beautiful, I have the urge to share with as many people as possible. Being bilingual has given me a unique advantage in helping to build the bridge between the east and the west. I enjoy the creative process of translation and find it satisfying to be able to contribute to the mutual understanding and appreciation among people who speak different languages and live in different cultures.

What is your biggest takeaway since beginning in the MSTI program?

There is so much to learn! 

I love how the MSTI program is structured with six core courses to provide a solid foundation, five electives to allow individualized concentrations, and a final thesis that helps the students find their own style and synthesize their learning into future practice. I also appreciate all the learning opportunities and networking resources outside the classrooms, including student memberships in ATA and other professional organizations, student subscriptions to Wall Street Journal and New York Times, student-sponsored organizations such as OWLS, the MSTI Winter Speaker Series, the ALC Bridge series, and the guest speakers who come to our classes to offer professional guidance and connections. Not to mention the Wasserman Center and the NYU Violet Network!

Do you have advice for other translators or people interested in the MSTI program?

We live in a digital information age, and many people are skeptical about the future of the language industry being transformed by AI or fan-based practices. This is precisely the reason why we need to understand both the academic discipline and the professional landscape so we can better prepare ourselves for future innovations. The MSTI program is a perfect platform to help us do that.

Anything else you’d like to share?

It is an honor and privilege to have this opportunity to study with so many talented professors and students at NYU. It’s a great time to be a language professional, and I am looking forward to continued learning and discovery! 

A translation and interpreting degree can help you to take charge of your career, whether you are new to the field or already working in the language professions. Apply for CALA’s MS in Translation & Interpreting, a fully online, 36-credit graduate program.

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