John Balcom
McCone Building M117
(802) 443-5286

Professor Balcom began studying Chinese several decades ago in a summer intensive language course at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. He has lived and worked in mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, and joined the MIIS T&I faculty in 1993. As a translator he has worked in-house and as a freelancer. Balcom is a past president of the American Literary Translators Association and co-chaired the first Salzburg Global Seminar on literary translation. The recipient of numerous grants and awards, including an NEA Translation Fellowship, his translations have won or been nominated for many awards: his Taiwan’s Indigenous Writers: An Anthology of Stories, Poems, and Essays and There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night by Cao Naiqian both won Northern California Book Awards; his translation of Huang Fan’s Zero won the Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Award; and his translation of Ya Hsien’s Abyss was a finalist for the PEN Poetry in Translation Award and a Northern California Book Award.

Courses Taught

Courses offered in the past two years.

  • Current term
  • Upcoming term(s)

This course is the counterpart to Advanced Translation I. Students are expected to translate texts of considerable difficulty and complexity and to cope with the types of operational challenges that are likely to be encountered in professional translation settings, such as working in teams or coping with multiple technologies. Emphasis is on particular text categories and subject-matter knowledge that are pertinent to current market demand for the specific language combination and direction in which the course is being taught. The frequency, nature, and structure of course assignments are at the discretion of the instructor(s) of record, but will include projects that simulate, as closely as possible, the professional translation environment, as well as at least one midterm and one final exam.

Prerequisite: Advanced Translation I or similar background.

Spring 2021 - MIIS

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This course introduces students to the theories and craft of literary translation into English (or Spanish) from a second language, which may be the students' A, B, or C language. During the semester we will read and discuss foundational texts in literary translation, touching on questions of translatability, fidelity, domestication and foreignization, genre, the relationship between original texts and their translations, and the notion of authorship. We will compare different translations of literary texts, in order to examine how each version works, and will discuss how translators make decisions on language, style, format, and cultural equivalency. We will also discuss the professional aspects of submission, publication, contracts, translation schedules, and ethics. Throughout the semester students will work on an individual translation project on a text of their choice that then will be workshopped in class. At the end of the term, each student will turn in a portfolio of their translation. Students will also submit (a portion of) their translation to a literary journal or publisher.

Fall 2020 - MIIS

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Introduction to Written Translation to English

Introduces students to the basic theory and practice of written translation. Students will learn to apply text analysis, text typology, and contrastive analysis of their working languages to identify, analyze, and resolve translation problems while independently developing an efficient and rational approach to the process of translation. The appropriate application of electronic translation tools will also be introduced. Fundamental translation theory will be emphasized at the beginning of the course and will be conveyed in the form of assigned readings, lectures, class discussions, and independent research. In addition, course assignments will include practice and graded exercises in written translation, utilizing authentic texts drawn from an extensive variety of text categories that include, but are not limited to, current events, general political economy, general legal documents, and scientific and technical topics for general audiences. As the term progresses, student time and effort will increasingly be spent on the preparation and evaluation of written translation assignments. Students will be expected to take at least one midterm exam and one final exam, to be assigned at the discretion of the instructor(s) of record.

Fall 2020 - MIIS

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Builds on the theoretical and practical foundation laid in Introduction to Translation and introduces the translation of specialized subject matter. Depending upon the language program in which they are enrolled, students will be expected to acquire and demonstrate basic proficiency in the sight and written translation of either commercial and economic texts, legal texts, or scientific and technical texts. The amount of emphasis accorded to a particular topic will depend on the specific professional requirements of each language program. Course assignments will include readings, research, presentations, practice and graded exercises in sight translation, and practice and graded written translation assignments, including exercises in speed translation. Students will also be expected to take at least one midterm and one final exam. The frequency, nature, and structure of course assignments and examinations are largely at the discretion of the instructor(s) of record.

Prerequisite: Introduction to Translation or equivalent background.

Spring 2020 - MIIS

View in Course Catalog

Areas of Interest

The translation of literary and philosophical texts; modern and contemporary Chinese poetry and fiction; Modernism and the international avant-garde; Taiwan studies; comparative literature studies; translation studies.

Academic Degrees

  • Ph.D. in Chinese and Comparative Literature, Washington University, St. Louis
  • M.A. in Chinese, San Francisco State University
  • B.A. in Chinese, Monterey Institute of International Studies
  • B.A in History, California State University, Fullerton

Professor Balcom has been teaching at the Institute since 1993.


  • Frontier Taiwan: An Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry (contributor)
  • Wintry Night by Li Qiao (co-translator)
  • The City Trilogy by Chang His-kuo
  • Taiwan’s Indigenous Writers: An Anthology of Stories, Essays, and Poems
    (Winner of the 2006 Northern California Book Award) 
  • Driftwood (A book-length poem by Lo Fu)
  • An anthology of Buddhist literature (pre-Han to the present)
  • “Translating Modern Chinese Literature” chapter of The Translator as Writer, edited by Susan Bassnett and Peter Bush

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