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Three steps to translate a Chinese poem into English

Updated on May 28, 2008

Below are Chinese poem in Chinese phonetic symbols (Pinyin)

Jiang Nan Ke Cai Lian

Lian ye he tian tian

Yu xi lian ye jian

yu xi lian ye dong

yu xi lian ye xi

yu xi lian ye Nan

yu xi lian ye bei

Step 1: Word by word translation

River south can pick lotus lotus

leaves how drifting drifting

fish sport lotus leaves middle

fish sport lotus leaves east

fish sport lotus leaves west

fish sport lotus leaves south

fish sport lotus leaves north

Step 2: Phrasing and changing word order

Here we make some improvements, connect words and change word order into readable sentences, then make a poem in English:

South of the river: to pluck lotus lotus

Lotus leaves drift, drift.

Fish sport, midst of lotus leaves;

Fish sport, east of lotus leaves.

Fish sport, west of lotus leaves.

Fish sport, south of lotus leaves.

Fish sport, north of lotus leaves.

Step 3: Rephrasing and finalising

Now we can do much more about this ancient poem, rewrite it to suit English language customs:

South of the river is the place to gather lotus,

Where among teeming leaves

Fish dart and play!

North and south,

East and west,

Between the lotus leaves they dart and play!

Well done!


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