Western students help translate the hit series 'The Handmaid’s Tale' to Mandarin

The Handmaid’s Tale – the critically-acclaimed drama series based on the dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood - was one of the most watched programs of 2017, enthralling fans around the world.

Now, with the much-anticipated season two returning to SBS this month, a unique partnership between SBS and Western Sydney University is helping native Mandarin-speaking audiences gain a new, nuanced perspective on the series by being able to watch it in their first language.

As part of their practicum, students from the University’s Master of Interpreting and Translation, which includes studies in audiovisual translation, have been working under the mentorship of SBS Subtitling, translating episodes of season one of The Handmaid’s Tale into Mandarin, which is now available to stream via SBS On Demand with subtitles.

The second season will also be released with subtitles each week when it returns on 26 April.

Dr Jing Han, senior lecturer with the University’s School of Humanities and Communication Arts and also Subtitling Manager at SBS, says translating The Handmaid’s Tale was not a simple task because of the specific language and cultural concepts – a challenge the students embraced wholeheartedly.

“Our students did a great job of making the story more accessible for Mandarin-speaking audiences whilst gaining meaningful practical translation training in their comprehension and renditions into Chinese,” says Dr Han.

Master of Interpreting and Translation student, Tingting Fang, says the experience allowed her to gain a deeper insight into the subtitling profession, and the responsibilities that subtitlers have to their audience.

“Making subtitles for The Handmaid’s Tale has been a wonderful experience for me. The show itself is dark but thought-provoking. Through subtitling, I have had a chance to ponder on each and every phrase in those episodes, to think about issues of gender equality in my country and to remind myself of staying tough and brave as an independent young woman,” says Tingting.

“For me, subtitling is more than finding matches between two languages. It's about understanding and translating cultures, which is always challenging and rewarding at the same time.”

Dean of the School of Humanities and Communication Arts, Professor Peter Hutchings, says the University is pleased to partner with SBS and give students the opportunity to apply their skills in a real-world setting.

"The chance to work at translating and subtitling a major drama series like The Handmaid’s Tale into Mandarin is a fantastic hands-on learning experience for our interpreting and translation students where they can be mentored by experts in the field,” says Professor Hutchings.

“We are delighted to continue this partnership with a major broadcaster like SBS – internationally renowned for delivering high-quality multilingual content to Australian audiences – and build work-integrated learning into our students’ studies.”


6 April 2018

Amanda Whibley, Manager Media and Public Relations