Translation interests me.
That is great! 加油！
What interests me in this is how you decide what is what.
You are asking for principles here. Please, read carefully the following principles, because from what I read in your post and comments I can clearly see that you are having a hard time with each one of them. I wish you don't mind if I focus on what I believe you really need.
Principle 1: Translate is to let World 1 understand World 2 and viceversa. World 1 has its own language, with its own words, sentences, and grammar rules. The same goes with World 2.
Principle 2: Words are used differently in different languages. In Chinese, for each character (or word) we need to learn 4 things:
- How to read it (its pronunciation);
- How to write it;
- Its meaning/s;
- How to use it.
Principle 3: We cannot map in a one-to-one list the words belonging to the languages of World 1 and World 2. What World 1 says using one of its words (whether it is a noun, a verb, an adjective, or whatever) is not conditioned by how the same concept is expressed in World 2, and viceversa.
Principle 4: How words are put together (sentence structures) is peculiar to each language. It's quite normal for World 1 to feel that the wording of a sentence made in World 2 doesn't have any logic. My personal suggestion: stop applying English grammar logic to Chinese language sentences. Are you still thinking to English while studying Chinese? English, or your native language, is an obstacle in this case.
Is 我 I, me or my?
The only correct answer is: 我 is 我, and only 我. 我 belongs to a world different from the one "I", "me", and "my" belong to.
To translate the meaning of 我 in English, you may need to use "I", "me", or "my", according to English language usage.
So the important point here is: do I know what that 我 really means in that specific sentence?
All I am asking you is: how did you conclude that 挑战 is a verb? Magic? A guess? Just your opinion? Some logical principle?
Short answer: it's a matter of correct syntax. There is no Chinese structure which would permit 挑战 to be a noun in this sentence.
How to apply the above principles—Example sentence 我第一次挑战这么高难度的手术。
Grammar basis (see Principle 4): This is a Chinese sentence. Forget English. When ready, go on reading.
We need to understand how words work together in a Chinese sentence. You can take special note of the following word groupings.
By far the most common sentence structure in Chinese is 主语+动词谓语, and luckily we don't need to go on searching for anything different because it perfectly fits our sentence.
We can go on splitting 第一次挑战这么高难度的手术 this way:
这么高难度的手术 is a 的 structure, i.e. a nominal structure (手术 is its 中心词,
这么高难度 is its 定语).
The following is needed if you want to understand why 第一次 is not syntactically related to 我 but to 挑战.
次 is a 量词 here (it can be also a 形容词, but this is not the case). 次 can be used with 名词 (in that case, 的 can be added after 次) and 动词. When used with 动词, can be in the form 动+数+次 or 数+次+动 (as in our sentence).
数+次+动 is the structure used in our sentence:
(the meaning of 挑战 is 激励自己主动跟困难等做斗争)
So, 第一次 is not syntactically related to 我 (and can never be), but to 挑战.
The reason I asked is: 我第一次X mostly gets translated as: my first X, e.g. "我第一次跳伞 my first parachute jump"
First, as I said, 我 and 第一次 are not syntactically related.
Second, please, read carefully Principle 1, Principle 2, and Principle 3. You are mixing World 1 with World 2, and confusing what is correct and natural in one world with what is correct and natural in the other.
If, in '我第一次X' X is always a verb, these translations are incorrect.
No, sorry, (please, read Principle 1 and Principle 2, please) if you need to use a noun to express in a correct and natural English what a verb correctly and naturally expresses in Chinese, you have to use it (the English noun) for the translation to be perfect. Ever heard about Chinglish? Ever felt as if what you read in English, while grammatically correct, is not exactly the way you are accustomed to formulate a sentence or use words?
state it in simple terms
I'm sorry for that, I try my best to keep what I say simple. Which point do I need to make simpler?