Translator Interview: Megan Shank

Megan Shank

Megan Shank has a background in journalism (both freelance and as former editor of Newsweek Select in Shanghai). She has recently relocated to New York City after living in both Dalian and Shanghai. She also keeps a blog. This is the sixth and final interview in a series entitled The Many Paths to Translation Work.

1. What formal Chinese study programs have you participated in?

I’m primarily self-taught (many hours writing and rewriting characters at the kitchen table) and have also worked with some tutors. For two semesters, I took advanced intermediate Chinese classes at the Dalian Foreign Languages University. I never took a translation class, though I’m still interested in enrolling in some sort of program to improve my skill and speed.

2. How has living in China helped prepare you to become a translator?

For me, living in China has proved essential to my Mandarin studies. Opportunities abound for students to directly apply and test what they’re learning; they can use the language to create real connections. In terms of reading and writing, the characters fly out at you on the street, on a menu, in the subtitles of the late-night news. They dazzle and envelop you; you can’t escape them. Finally, in my experience, I’ve discovered the Chinese love their language. People from cabbies to park-side chess sharks have patiently drawn out characters for me on their palms and explained the radicals. I owe much to these patient and priceless—literally free—teachers.

3. How did you start working as a translator? How did you know you were ready?

The first piece I translated for publication was a compilation of Chinese blog posts protesting the Chinese Net Nanny. It was to accompany a feature I wrote for Global Journalist. At that time, I didn’t know about all the great online resources for translation, so I did it all by hand with one of those little red dictionaries. It was challenging, but I didn’t really question whether I was ready or not—I just did it.

4. What were the major challenges you faced when you first started translating?

I would become fatigued, and my speed was abysmal. I’m still more careful than I am quick. Learning how to efficiently transform chunky passive-voice sentences into readable English text took some practice. As a writer and editor that passive construction irked me; similarly, I had to get over the superfluous use of adjectives in most Chinese writing and stick to my job—to translate rather than question the writing.

5. Can you tell about any particularly challenging translation job you’ve done?

I think the most challenging translation jobs I did were for Newsweek Select, the now-defunct Chinese-language edition of Newsweek and my former employer. We’d face big turnover in a tight amount of time, and much of the work was financial columns—not my forte, though I’ve worked on it. Luckily, I had a great team of freelance translators—like Brendan O’Kane, John Biesnecker, Micah Sittig and Even Pay—that I could solicit for help.

6. How have recent technological advancements affected your work as a translator?

I love Google Translate to search for names of companies and other arcane phrases. I’m also a huge fan of and

7. How do you see the state of Chinese-English translation in China?

I’m not particularly knowledgeable about the market for it, but I’m interested in exploring that question since I’m on the lookout for work again.

8. What kinds of material do you love translating? What do you hate translating?

I love to translate news, commentary and policy reports; I could probably happily live the rest of my life without translating another Chinese luxury villas advertisement, though even those can be a gas sometimes.

Megan writes on Megan Shank dot com, and you can contact her there regarding relevant projects.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Little Cheese Says: April 10, 2009 at 4:13 am

    Great interview! It’s interesting to hear about all different kinds of translators. This series has inspired me to 继续努力得学中文!

  2. I agree! I come back to Sinosplice every now and again to check up, even though I lapsed somewhat in my Chinese studies for a few years (after marrying a Chinese woman, go figure) and it’s funny how this series sort of coincided with my decision to take some formal courses at the college level to start learning reading and writing characters. I have a pretty good base of spoken language, intermediate by Chinesepod standards I guess, but never learned the reading and writing of characters. I think learning that is really going to help me expand my vocabulary via reading, in addition to what I learn by watching/listening. It’s fun to see these people putting the knowledge to practical use and see how they got to where they are now.

  3. Don’t stop….. I loved the series.

  4. these are really good !!

    thanks John ! 🙂

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