College English teaching in China has long focused on importing cultures of English countries while neglecting to enhance students’ English competence in home culture. The present research aims to investigate Chinese non-English major undergraduates’ competence in translating Chinese cultural items into English and the significant predictors of such competence. With a test and a questionnaire as research instruments, this study was conducted to assess 82 undergraduates’ ability to translate three different levels of Chinese culture-specific items into English and explored the factors which might have affected the students’ home culture translation ability. The results show that the participants did well in translating the surface layer cultural items, but their performance in sub-surface and deep layer culture translation tasks was far from being satisfactory. It was also found that students had positive attitudes towards Chinese culture and were willing to learn to express Chinese culture in English, but their English learning motivation in general was not strong enough, and they were not given much input on Chinese culture in their English class. Students’ Chinese cultural knowledge and their awareness of the importance of learning Chinese culture in English were found to be the two significant factors that can predict their performance in the translation tasks. These findings have implications for the teaching of culture and cross-cultural communications in EFL classes.
About the authors
Haiyang Sun is associate professor in Applied Linguistics at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences. Her research interests range from language testing, second language acquisition, to cross-cultural communication and teacher education.
Yuan Gao is an MA graduate of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences. She is now working at the Publicity Department of UCAS. Her research interests include cross-cultural communication, applied linguistics, etc.
We want to show our sincere thanks to the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions on how to revise the earlier version of the article. We also want to express our genuine gratitude to Prof. Wen Qiufang for her constructive suggestions on the final revision of the article. Our special thanks also go to Mr. Liu Xiangdong and the two copy editors, Duncan Sidwell and Ding Yanren, for their extensive assistance in editing and proofreading the manuscript.
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Appendix A. Items used in the three translation tasks
|1. 汉服||Han costume|
|2. 川菜||Sichuan dishes/cuisine|
|3. 北京烤鸭||Beijing roast duck|
|4. 长城||The Great Wall|
|5. 故宫||Imperial Palace (in Beijing); Forbidden City; the Palace Museum|
|6. 京剧||Beijing/ Peking opera|
|7. 水墨画||wash painting; ink and wash|
|8. 针灸||acupuncture and moxibustion|
|9. 甲骨文||ancient Chinese characters carved on tortoise shells or animal bones|
|10. 宋词||poetry of the Song Dynasty / the poem of Song Dynasty|
|1. 禅让制||system of abdication, the emperor gives his position to someone who is not a member of the royal family|
|2. 科举制||The Imperial Civil Examination System|
|3. 拱手礼||fist-and-palm salute, cup one hand in the other before the chest (to show respect)|
|4. 长尊有序||There should be the order between seniors and juniors as well as the order between different hierarchies|
|5. 不耻下问||not feel ashamed to learn from one’s subordinates/inferiors|
|6. 投桃报李||give a plum in return for a peach; exchange gifts/favours|
|7. 相敬如宾||(of a married couple) respect each other as if the other were a guest|
|8. 礼尚往来||courtesy demands reciprocity; reciprocity as a social norm|
|9. 一国两制||One country, two systems|
|10. 一带一路||The Belt and Road Initiative|
A just cause enjoys abundant support while an unjust cause finds little support.
One cannot know his goal without a simple life and cannot succeed without serenity of mind.
Progress in studies comes from hard work and is retarded by frivolity; the way of life is attained through deliberate thought but ruined by casual negligence.
A journey of thousands of miles may not be achieved without the accumulation of each single step, just as an ocean may not be formed without gathering every stream.
The movement of heaven is full of power, and thus the superior man makes himself strong and untiring; the earth’s condition is receptive devotion, and thus the superior man who has breadth of character carries the outer world.
Appendix B. Four dimensions of the Questionnaire
Attitudes to Chinese culture
The Chinese culture, being extensive and profound, is the most valuable heritage of the world.
I’m Chinese, and I should have profound knowledge about Chinese culture.
I’m proud of my own culture.
The essence of our culture should be exported to the outside world.
English learning motivation
I really enjoy learning English.
I learn English because I want to know more about the development of economy and science in English countries.
I’m interested in peoples and cultures of English speaking countries.
I learn English mainly for the purpose of passing the exam and getting the credits.
Awareness of the importance of learning Chinese culture in English
Chinese cultural content should not occur in English class.
Learning to express Chinese culture in English is the responsibility of college students.
Developing English competence in Chinese culture is essentially important for English learners.
English learning does not need to involve Chinese cultural knowledge.
Teaching of Chinese culture in English
My English teachers always emphasized the importance of learning Chinese culture in English.
We had special English courses about Chinese culture.
The English textbooks we used contained much Chinese cultural content.
My English teachers offered abundant Chinese cultural materials for us.
My English teachers always made comparisons between Chinese culture and English culture in class.
We were instructed and trained to express Chinese culture in English.
Our English exams contain many Chinese cultural items.
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