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Student writes Patriots' news in Mandarin

Tian He, who writes Patriots' news in Mandarin, strikes a Tom Brady-like pose during an intramural football game on Briggs Field.
Tian He, who writes Patriots' news in Mandarin, strikes a Tom Brady-like pose during an intramural football game on Briggs Field.
Photo / Laura Wulf

Tian He has always been interested in integrating the two pieces of his life--one spent in China and the other in the United States.

As the official Mandarin translator for the New England Patriot's web site, the electrical engineering and computer science junior may have found a way.

"I've always been a football fan," said He, who was born in Beijing and moved to the United States in 1993. His family settled in Knoxville, Tenn., where his father studied at the Tennessee Technological University.

Initially, He knew little English, but as his language skills grew, so did his interest in other bits of Western culture, primarily football.

Though he didn't play varsity football--he ran cross-country throughout high school--He and his friends organized games of tackle football every other weekend. These were no light games, he said. In one game, a player burst his spleen. "I guess we played pretty rough," he said with a laugh.

But for He, football is about more than brute force.

"It's a beautiful sport," he said. "Each play is skillfully thought out."

Until 1997, his experience of football was limited to watching college games. But that year, he turned on the television to watch the New England Patriots play the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. New England lost, but that day in late January, a Pats fan was born.

"They are a great franchise," said He.

After coming to MIT two years ago, He expected to watch the Patriots, but never to get as close as he is now. Last summer, he was living on campus when he received a group e-mail noting that the Patriots were looking for someone to translate their news into Chinese.

After two Super Bowl wins, the team was looking to expand globally, said Fred Kirsch, director of interactive media for the team.

When Kirsch received He's audition tape--an audio recording of He translating the Patriots' video news into Mandarin--he knew He was right for the job.

"With a local resource like Tian available to us, offering our first non-English translation of to a Chinese audience was a no-brainer," said Kirsch.

Each day, He gathers news from and compiles it into his own words, for which he is well paid. "Let's just say it pays better than your average UROP," he said.

His parents log on regularly to see what's new. "They always wanted me to find a way to keep up my Chinese," He said.

Though he has no plans to go into sports writing ("I think I'll stick with the technical side," he said), this has been a great opportunity for He to fulfill some dreams. "I was always interested in finding a way to connect the East and West," he said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 29, 2004 (download PDF).

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