John Balcom
McCone Building M105
(831) 647-4190

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)

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

This is the first of two complementary courses designed to bring translation knowledge and skills up to the level that would be required of someone working in a professional translation environment. Students will be expected to apply the knowledge and skills acquired during the first-year translation courses to produce translations that meet high standards for content, form, and presentation. A great deal of attention is given to subject matter knowledge and research, precision in text analysis and writing, and the appropriate application of translation technology. Some programs emphasize scientific and technical topics in this course, but others give considerable attention to commercial, economic, legal, and political texts, many of which have a technical component. The frequency, nature, and structure of course assignments and examinations are at the discretion of the instructor(s) of record. Students will, however, be expected to take at least one midterm exam and one final exam.

Prerequisite: 2nd-year student in good standing or equivalent background.

Fall 2019 - 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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