Our first Chinese event

Last week-end, we ran our first event in China, at the Banpocun Cafe, 32 Qingdao Lu, Nanjing. This event was a partnership with the Nanjing University Graduate Students English Club and ACYA Nanjing. It brought together over 25 participants who, together, translated over 5000 characters during the evening.


Running translation events has become a growing part of our organisation’s strategy. Our website offers a base for mutual language exchange among native Mandarin learners and English learners – or allows native Chinese speakers to practice their English writing skills. These events are also the opportunity for participants to gain confidence in their own linguistic capacity, and learn to define and elaborate meaning in a collaborative fashion.


Last week, we were amazed at the speed and efficiency with which those coming formed into teams and interacted to find the best word or structure: more than translation training, these workshops build up participants’ awareness and skills in the collective negotiation of meaning.


Presenting the Marco Polo Project – RSAnimate

Have you heard of RSAnimates? These short videos presenting an idea or project through quick drawings and a voice over… Check this one out – and pass it on to your friends if they’re ever asking ‘what’s this Marco Polo Project you’re always talking about’.

Thanks to the fabulous Glenn Stephenson for this video – Ron Killeen @ Shack West who mastered the sound – and Karen Pickering for the voice over.

Learning how to use our website

If you’ve come to our website before but got confused about how to use it, or if one of your friends would like some guidance in their first steps with us, our team put together three short videos explaining core features to new-comers: register, find a text, translate.

Please, let us know if you find them clear enough, and whether we should make more! Hey, we’re working on a Chinese version too.


Find a text


Our values

At our last board meeting, we spent some time reflecting about the core values that drive us and inspire what we do. We think it’s now time to share them in this post – and more permanently on this page.

Marco Polo Project values

Curiosity: we respect and encourage the desire to learn and explore new areas of knowledge.

Diversity: we believe in a world where multiple voices can be heard, multiple cultures can thrive, and multiple organisations can co-exist.

Collaboration: we believe in people and organisations working together to achieve their goals, building on each other’s strengths and supporting each other.

Global Age Intellectuals must understand the Chinese tradition – Why Marco Polo Project #1

This post opens a series about the factors motivating us to run the Marco Polo Project. Please join in the conversation, and tell us why you think the Marco Polo Project should exist. 

To qualify as a respected intellectual in Continental Europe, you must know the core languages of the Great European Tradition: French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek. You’re not expected to join in spontaneous conversations with no trace of accent, of course, but know enough of each language to read its literature in the text, or at least appreciate its original flavour when reading a translation. And reading them you must: Moliere, Shakespeare, Goethe, Dante, Cervantes, Virigil and Homer are all part of a multilingual tradition in constant dialogue, and make full sense only through their complex relationship with each other.

Up until recently, reading these languages was enough – although respected intellectuals from smaller European countries might throw their own language into the mix, and add colour to the dialogue. Meanwhile, ‘Oriental’ languages were a niche specialty, only marginally more relevant to the conversations of the Great European Tradition than, say, Nahuatl or Quechua. Sanskrit and Hebrew, Russian and Arabic, as close neighbours, peaked a timid glance over the fence. Mandarin was far beyond the pale.

But things have changed. Under the combined effects of globalisation and the rise of Asia, it is likely that Mandarin will feature as part of the linguistic panoply for aspiring intellectuals in Europe and globally. Those ignorant of things Chinese will no longer find themselves in a position to speak with universal authority. This is radically new, this is probably positive, and this is surely challenging. The European traditions have conducted their dialogue for centuries – translation and multi-lingualism is at the core of the European Project. But will this project integrate a language and tradition so long distant and separate?

We believe in a world where cultural and intellectual leaders are multi-lingual, and their thinking is informed by a deep understanding of multiple traditions. We believe that today’s world involves a conversation between the Chinese and European traditions. And our goal for developing this project is to support the great learning effort necessary for this important conversation to take place, and become a matter-of-fact.

Chinese translation workshops

Our online community now has a regular offline presence in Melbourne!


On the 23rd of February, we ran our first collaborative translation workshop, in partnership with Language Connection. These workshops now take place every Saturday, 12h30 to 2h30, at the Multicultural Hub on Elizabeth Street.

Why run workshops?

Our mission is to develop Chinese and China literacy. The model we propose to use is a collaborative model, based on peer-learning and crowd-sourcing.

We form a digital community, with a primary web-presence. But our learners and translators are not only ‘web-users’, and their desire to read and translate new writing from China is not restricted to their internet selves.


Running regular workshops is a way for us to better understand our learners and translators, and improve the services we provide. For learners, it is an opportunity to meet new people sharing similar interests, and practice their language and translation skills in a supportive social setting.

How do the workshops run?

In each workshop, a group of participants work together on a Chinese text, and produce an English translation.


This is how the process runs:

  • Before the workshop, we post a selection of texts on our meetup and facebook pages, so participants can choose a favorite, and have time to read it
  • On the day, we start with a few warm up activities, then break up the workshop into small tables of three or four, trying to balance native Mandarin and English speakers.
  • Each table is given one or two paragraphs to translate, and works on them for about an hour. The facilitator circulates, and helps each group deal with translation difficulties.
  •  At the end of the session, the facilitator invites each table to read their translation, and reflect on the process – what was hard, exciting, surprising, familiar, etc.
  • The translations are then uploaded to the Marco Polo Project website, and published.


What are the learning benefits? 

These translation workshops benefit learners in the following ways:

  • All participants speak at least some Chinese and English, and practice both languages at their table while working on the translation.
  • Mandarin learners not only practice reading characters and encounter new vocabulary, but by looking in-details at the structure of a Chinese text, they develop a much better understanding of Chinese grammar and stylistic patterns.
  • These benefits extend to native Mandarin speakers learning English. Not only can they learn new vocabulary from other participants:  more importantly, when trying to produce an adequate translation, they develop a better awareness of the stylistic and grammatical differences between Chinese and English, and develop strategies to write and speak more idiomatic English.
  • Finally, the workshops are an opportunity for participants to make new friends, and gain motivation to study further from a sense of collective emulation.


So, why don’t you come and join our next workshop – all details for the Melbourne workshops can be found on this meetup page and facebook group.

Or if you would like help to start a workshop in your city, please contact info@marcopoloproject.org, or send us a tweet @mpoloproject.