Language Learning Documentation: Translating an App Notification

Interested in learning a language outside of the traditional, sugarcoated world of textbooks and classrooms? Why not try using your phone?

Today I used a notification from the update of my bank app as an opportunity to study some more Chinese (note: bank is 农业银行 – Agriculture Bank of China). I’ve documented my translation process here for fun and to provide other language learners with a sample framework.

In total, the translation process took about twenty minutes, but it could be longer or faster depending on the type of content you’d like to translate. This exercise is a useful pattern interrupt for learners who primarily use traditional language learning material and courses.

Of course, this method also has the added benefit of providing real world practicality. For example, the next time I see an app update from 农业银行, I’ll be more prepared to understand it.

3-step method outlined

1. evaluate material and decide to translate

The first part of the process is to identify a piece of language that you are curious about.

For me, I was curious as to what contents of the app had been changed (note “更新内容” = “most recently updated content”). I knew some of the words (新增, 系统, etc.) but not others.

The context (a banking application on my cellphone) and language grade (already knew some of the words – but not all) helped me to make the decision to stop my regular study and decide to translate. You can also use these types of details to evaluate potential material to translate.

2. copy onto a separate piece of paper

After selecting the material it will need to copied or printed out. This will allow you to mark up the text and make notes.

For short messages and documents I’ll usually write down all of the characters onto a separate piece of paper. If the piece is longer, then I like to print it out to save time.

Note: people who think it’s not important to learn how to write characters will struggle in this stage. Although writing characters is difficult in the beginning, I’ve found that for translation purposes (when you are just copying) its really not a big deal.

3. look up words/characters 

After doing this I’ll look up characters I don’t know in Pleco and record their pinyin in the journal/piece of paper. For this exercise I didn’t write the parts of speech, but this is also useful information to consider when making sense of the Chinese.

Note: I’ve purchased the handwriting feature for Pleco so that I can write the characters directly into the dictionary. That’s important because it you don’t know a characters pinyin and you can’t write it into the search bar, then you won’t be able to move beyond this point.

After getting the characters, Pinyin, and English definition on a piece of paper I will try to make a sensible translation. As this is an amateur translation and basically just for fun, I didn’t spend too much time in trying to make it perfect.

rough translation:

  1. 新增电子社保服务 -> “recently added social security card service”.
  2. 提升系统远行稳定性 -> “update and stabilize the system”.

The language used here is definitely not literary. Although my suggested translations could probably be improved, I believe that they are adequate.

In regards to how the app changed, it seems that they have added a feature for uploading one’s social security card. They’ve also presumably fixed some bugs. I went into the app after and was unable to find specifically where the changes are, but that could be the topic of another blog post if readers are interested.

In terms of language learning, this type of practice is good for two reasons:

  1. you learn and review language that you still aren’t quite familiar with yet.
  2. you apply your studies in a practical way, which incentives you to keep learning.

note: feedback on translation welcome : )


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1 thought on “Language Learning Documentation: Translating an App Notification

  1. Dear Will,

    I found your last post so interesting. Sometimes we can think that we learn things for the mere fact of reading it, listening or even by chance. However, in my view, this post shows why “curiosity” and “real experience” are crucial when it comes to learn something in a deep way.

    By the way, congratulations for the Blog

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