“Born to be bilingual”
Ray Kwan, like most others on the Unbabel platform, is not your typical translator: “translators are supposed to be more concerned with the liberal arts, but I am more of a geeky guy. I like chasing all the new techie stuff, and following the latest trends in the tech industry.”
For Ray, Unbabel is changing up the role of the modern translator, and he’s excited about the way bilingual editors work in partnership with predictive technology. Unbabel’s ability to unite the speed of computational translation and the subtlety of human translation make it unique:
I think combining technology and the liberal arts can bring greater inspiration, just as Unbabel seeks to do – using AI technology to deal with language.
Ray has now worked for more than a year as a translator for Unbabel, following a position at the Chinese version of TechCrunch.com. Fascinated by China’s native technology scene, and eager to communicate its recent developments on an international scale, Ray has also produced an .
Ray is from Guangzhou, a major port city in the province of Guangdong, Southern China. Located on the Pearl River, about 120km northwest of Hong Kong, Guangzhou is China’s third largest city, and a large proportion of the city’s population migrated from other provinces in China. This means that the streets of Guangzhou are teeming with languages, dialects, and accents from across the region, but there are two in particular that have prominence: Mandarin and Cantonese.
Throughout China, Mandarin — known as Putonghua, the “common language,” with its roots in Beijing’s northern dialect — is the official medium for education, government and the media, but in Guangdong, Cantonese is the only spoken tongue of many of its elderly residents. Ray, as for all of those from Guangdong’s younger generations, was immersed in both languages: “As a native Cantonese, I was born to be a bilingual.” In mainland China the two languages generally use the same characters for the same words, so that they are mutually intelligible in written form –– but incomprehensible when spoken.
Born to be bilingual, he has since become trilingual and can speak English fluently, while also understanding a little Japanese. Ray translates between two of his three principal languages for Unbabel: “I mainly deal with two language pairs, EN-CN (simplified) and EN-CN (traditional).”
A logographic language full of figurative and metaphorical phrases can often present problems: “My favourite translation error? We all know that Chinese has a very long history, and we tend to use some old idioms or ‘成语’ to enhance the style of our expressions. But when in EN-CN translation, even if it is a plain expression in the source text, some translators might use a profound idiom to replace it — a mistake which would make the tone of the target text sound very funny.”
Living in one of the most densely populated areas of mainland China, Ray seeks out rare moments of peace: “My hobbies are kind of quiet, such as reading, playing video games, listening to music.” He feels the same way about his leisure time as he does about his working environment: “An ideal spot for me to work should also be quiet so that I can focus on my work. If I have to work at a noisy spot, I put in my earphones to screen myself from my surroundings.” But that attitude doesn’t map onto his music choices: “I like to listen to some EDM to calm myself down, such as the music by Marshmello, Clean Bandit, and The Chainsmokers.”