An Interview with Two Hakka Language Interpreters

In order to implement the spirit of Article 14 of the Hakka Basic Law, the Hakka Affairs Council launched the Hakka-Chinese Interpretation Training Camp in 2018, and in 2020, it expanded the camp to include Level 1 Hakka-Minnan and Hakka-English interpretation talent training. Two students who graduated from the camps are Liu Teh-yang (劉德洋), a dedicated and hardworking retiree, and Tzeng Pei-chia (曾沛嘉), who is fluent in the Hakka and Minnan languages. After participating in the training camps, they obtained certificates of qualification for Hakka interpretation. In this interview, they shared some of their personal experiences and views.

Hakka interpreter training program

Mr. Liu Teh-yang is a Hakka person who was born in Danshui Town, Taipei County (now New Taipei City’s Danshui District). His parents are Hakkas from Hsinchu and Miaoli. Although he grew up in an area mainly populated by the Minnan ethnic group, he benefitted from a home environment in which Hakka was the language his parents used to communicate with him. In school, he learned Mandarin Chinese, so he became fluent in all three languages. After graduating from college, Mr. Liu worked in a trading company handling overseas business and because of this experience, he also acquired the ability to speak a fourth language – English.
HAC Minister Yiong Con-ziin presented a certificate of completion to Mr. Liu Teh-yang.
(Photo: Liu Teh-yang)

After retiring more than 10 years ago, Mr. Liu has been committed to language learning. Before participating in the interpretation training, he thought the so-called "interpretation" should be a simple oral translation, but after entering the training camp, he found that the professionalism of interpretation was deep and broad. Interpreters must familiarize themselves with the terminology and concepts used by many different fields, such as law, medicine, etc.
Liu Teh-yang shared his experiences in the interpreter training program.
(Photo: Liu Teh-yang)

In addition to providing interpretation for business meetings, they also must interpret for government meetings, legislature or local city or county councils’ question and answer sessions, as well as public forums. Prior to the day of the interpretation assignment, the interpreter must spend a lot of time to understand the relevant content. 

Mr. Liu said interpreters face great challenges and a lot of pressure. They also must invest a lot of time and effort in preparing in advance. However, the rewards are the chance to meet people from different professional fields and to come into contact with the latest or even confidential information. And of course there’s the infinite sense of accomplishment of having helped others bridge the communications gap.

Mr. Liu said the teachers in the interpretation talent training camp organized by the Hakka Affairs Council are all very professional and rich in experience. After taking the Level 1 course and obtaining the certification, the students will have a few internships in the advanced training course, including in some large meetings, where they can gain precious experience.

Mr. Liu also shared his views on Taiwan’s national language policy. He expressed agreement with the government’s plan to protect the language of Taiwan’s various ethnic groups. He pointed out an example of the Swiss banknotes, which are printed in four languages, including French, German, Italian, and Romansh language. Mr. Liu said that from this, you can see the respect this multilingual country has for each ethnic language. He hopes that Taiwan can develop into a mature multilingual society, in which people of different ethnic groups can communicate more effectively with each other.

Another student, Ms. Tzeng Pei-chia, grew up in a Minnan community in Pingtung City. Her parents are Hakkas from Pingtung County’s Zhutian Township. When she once returned to the Hakka village for family gatherings, the elders and other relatives in her family would accommodate her and speak to her in Mandarin Chinese, thinking it would be easier to communicate with her in Mandarin than Hakka. However, she would ask them to speak their own native language, and in doing so, she was able to create a pure Hakka language environment.
Tzeng Pei-chia
(Photo: Tzeng Pei-chia)

Ms. Tzeng graduated from the Department of Taiwanese Languages and Literature at National Taichung University of Education, specializing in Taiwan's local languages and their culture and history. She majored in Minnan and Hakka languages, and because of her own interest and experience, she participated in the first Hakka-Mandarin interpretation training in 2018 and later the Hakka-Minnan translation training in 2020. Ms. Tzeng said the Hakka and Minnan languages retain the sound rhyme of ancient Chinese, whereas some of the sounds do not exist in Mandarin. Therefore, preserving and passing on these two local languages spoken in Taiwan are a very important part of the Chinese language system.
Tzeng Pei-chia shared her experiences in the interpreter training program.
(Photo: Tzeng Pei-chia)

Ms. Tzeng also mentioned that what makes Hakka interpretation more difficult than perhaps other languages is that Hakka has a total of five accents (Sixian accent, Hailu accent, Dapu accent, Raoping accent, and Zhao’an accent). Because she speaks Hakka with the Sixian accent, when she encounters other accents she is not as familiar with, such as the Hailu accent, although she can understand most of what is said, it takes some effort to accurately translate. That is why Ms. Tzeng continues to push herself to improve and plans to get a certification for interpreting Hailu-accented Hakka in the future.

Ms. Tzeng has participated in the interpretation for the Liudui 300 Commemoration, which was broadcasted live, as well as interned at the National Language Development Conference. She said that as an interpreter, in addition to having the language skills, one must have a calm attitude, as well as the ability to react fast, so that he or she can cope with the various different situations that arise.

In terms of her views on Taiwan’s national language policy, Ms. Tzeng said she agrees with Taiwan developing into a multilingual nation, and believes that Taiwan's local languages, whether they are Minnan, Hakka or indigenous languages, are all part of our unique and proud cultural character.