For Ying Hutchinson, Mandarin teacher at the Waterview campus, it’s always been about interpreting. The word “interpreting” literally means “the process of first fully understanding, analyzing, and processing a spoken or signed message and then faithfully rendering it into another spoken or signed language.” And Ying does that well, having earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Translation and Interpretation from Nanjing Normal University in east-central China.
“I would see big high-level meetings between nations on the television or live at conferences and events and it always intrigued me to see and hear the translators at work,” Ying says. “It seemed to me in some ways the interpreters were as much a part of whatever was going on as the important people who were involved. Everything hinged on what the interpreters said.”
For Ying, that meant making precise connections between different languages was vital. Luckily for Ying, she’d had the benefit of learning English from an exchange teacher from Wellesley College in Massachusetts - a native English speaker, unlike most English teachers in China who’d learned the language without the benefit of all the nuance that gets packed in by native-speakers.
“We were very fortunate to have that relationship with an American school,” Ying says. “Fifteen or so years ago in China, most students had to learn from either Chinese-English teachers or through online courses over the internet. I not only had a great teacher, but a teacher who really got me inspired to become a translator.”
Professional work wasn’t long in coming for Ying, who earned an internship translating between officials from the International Olympic Committee and Nanjing’s own Youth Olympic Games. This not only helped her put a fine polish on her language skills, but it also came with a level of prestige. “China is very tightly structured, and to be working directly with high-level VIPs and Olympics officials was a very high honor,” she says. "You had to be very good to do that."
According to Ying, translation between Mandarin and the various Western languages presents its own unique challenge. “Chinese words are written using characters as opposed to a structured alphabet,” she explains. “The language is transcribed using an alphabet to create a phonic system (known as hànyǔ pīnyīn - or pinyin) that helps people learn how to pronounce words.” She adds that Chinese is a language of five basic tones, each connoted by various marks. “So it really requires a lot of concentration when doing simultaneous translation like during a live conversation. The anchor words aren’t there that you might find between English, French, German or Spanish.”
For Ying, the ability to make complex translations on the fly has helped in other ways. Like when she made the jump from Nanjing all the way to Tampa, Florida, for an exchange trip in graduate school. “I traveled from the ancient capital of five dynasties dating back thousands of years to a sun-baked city on the beach with hardly any history at all,” she says. “The biggest shock was the climate - hot and humid during the summer - but I’d never lived next to an ocean so that definitely made up for it.”
Also, learning to interpret the feeling of the modern city of Nanjing to its days nearly a century ago - known to the world then as Nanking - with its dark history in the years leading up to World War II requires its own delicate translation. “We were always taught as students to honor and acknowledge our history, but then to move forward with courage into the future,” she says. “The city has a bitter and sad story, but now the focus is on learning from what happened and putting that behind us.”
Back to modern-day Tampa, Ying - now married - took the opportunity to teach at a Chinese school. “I taught the ABC’s - American-Born Chinese,” she says. “They were Chinese, but had never been to China, so it was important that I taught them as much Chinese culture as I did language.”
Ying then traveled to Houston where she used her translation and interpretation skills in the city’s world-class health centers, helping patients communicate with doctors and fully understand their medical conditions. “It was extremely important that everything was translated accurately in those situations - it could mean the difference between healing or not.”
Then came the next move to Dallas, where Ying and family (including a two-year-old child) settled and where she now teaches 5th, 11th and 12th graders. “For the high schoolers, it’s all about adding to what they already know and going beyond that to show how it can help them become fully mature citizens of the world, with empathy and sympathy and all of those good qualities,” she says. “But I’m always surprised by them and how far along they already are.”
For 5th graders, Ying says the greatest challenge is figuring out how to engage them, creating the magic spark that opens up their curiosity and enthusiasm about learning a language. “They already speak Russian, French or German or Spanish - so how do you demonstrate to them that Mandarin is an equally beautiful language for them to learn? They discover that very quickly once we get into it.”
And what has Ying discovered about DIS that makes it special? “It’s a sense of pride, I think - we're proud of being an international school with so many languages and cultures. All of the special things we do add to what will put our students ahead in the future.”
To translate that succinctly, what we do at DIS translates to success. And that’s fairly easy to interpret.