After five days of struggling to communicate with sources for the China in Africa in depth project, I’ve finally found a solution to the language barriers. This week while working in the field, I struggled to get my messages across to potential Chinese sources, as they were proficient in Mandarin and not English. The latter dampened my spirit in terms of continuing with my stories. For the in depth project I am focusing on two stories: Chinese people in Soweto and how they integrate in townships and Chinese sex workers in Johannesburg. My journey began on a rocky note, as I encountered potential sources that were apt for my angle. However, language barriers barred them from understanding my story proposal and for them to specifically feature in my stories.
There was no way to navigate around language barriers, until I discovered a way to get my message across in Mandarin. Today, I thought about using Google Translate, a tool which enables people to translate phrases and sentences into a plethora of global languages. With the tool I managed to translate my story proposal for potential sources originally in English to Mandarin (See below). Even though I got an instant translation seconds later, I had to confirm that my English translation was accurate. Sometimes when phrases are translated form English into another language can have a different meaning while translated. For the confirmation part I went to the Wits Language School where I encountered Chinese students who were proficient with Mandarin. Armed with a printed copy of the Google translation I approached three students who read the translation, read it out to me and said they understood my message. I was delighted, as I was out of the language barrier pit, which is quite lonely and miserable. It gave me new hope for communicating with potential sources, as I will let the translation speak for itself.
My sources will now deny an interview, armed with information and the ability of fully understanding my proposal. I look forward to a new leaf turned, courtesy of Google Translate.
My English proposal
Hello. My name is Ray Mahlaka and I am a journalist from the Wits Journalism department. I was wondering if you could help me. I am currently writing a story about Chinese people in Soweto, their Chinese culture and how they integrate in the township and with locals. Are you willing to speak to me?
Moments later after Google Translate worked its magic…
In Chinese logograms…
And Mandarin words…
Nǐ hǎo. Wǒ de míngzì shì léi Mahlaka hé wǒ shì yīgè jīzhì xīnwén bù jìzhě. Wǒ zài xiǎng, rúguǒ nǐ néng bāngzhù wǒ. Zài suǒ wéi tuō, wǒ mùqián zhèngzài xiě yīgè guānyú zhōngguó rén de gùshì, tāmen de zhōngguó wénhuà, yǐjí tāmen rúhé jíchéng zài xiāngzhèn hé dāngdì rén. Nǐ yuànyì gēn wǒ shuōhuà ma?