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Why is Chinese Translation Difficult? (And Why You Need a Professional to Do it for You)

Maria Krisette Capati, Author

17 July 2017

Is the Chinese language that difficult?

English speakers who are learning Chinese may find it more difficult compared to Spanish, German, or French.

Did you know linguistics, specialization, and cultural aspects can help us better understand why? These things will make us appreciate the work of professional translators, too.

READ MORE >>> Chinese Translation and Localization Playbook on Business Growth

Here’s a fact: China is now becoming a global leader in economic and business developments across the world.

Moreover, many foreign companies are focusing more on globalization strategies. English to Chinese translation is indispensable in the global marketplace these days.

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Here are the contributing factors of its difficulty.

1. Linguistics

English and Chinese have different linguistic styles. Translators need to watch out for the tenses, grammar rules, plural forms, and words that are either truncated or lengthened in Chinese.

There are no letter cases in English. In Chinese, there are characters and strokes.

There are tenses in English that imply adding a new particle like “le” in Chinese to the sentence, depending on what the source texts mean. (e.g. adding a verb + le at the end implies a past tense, while in English, we still have the verb tenses with different words from drive, drove, driven.

Some characters in Chinese mean a different meaning when combining with other characters. For example, 熊: bear vs. 熊猫: panda

Typically, an English word will render into two or three Chinese characters, while compound words around 4-6 characters.

Some clients provide long texts and content in English. A professional Chinese translator needs to segment and translate these long sentences and make sure there are no compromises when it comes to context and meaning.

2. Specialization

We all know that there are different kinds of industries. From technology to finance to agriculture to fashion and among others.

One of the mistakes that foreign companies often gamble is that they work with university students to do the translation job for them without considering the grievous consequences of translating texts out of the context and industry.

Professional translators who know their stuff – the industry – have a full understanding and correct usage of terminologies and jargons to ensure an accurate translation.

3. Cultural and regional aspects

A lot of people think that the Chinese language is one and the same. It has various dialects such as Mandarin (the standard and commonly used in Mainland China), Cantonese, and Hakka.

Clients and professional translators must discuss the customer’s persona and their target region.

In China, they use different oral and written forms of the language.

Here’s a table to understand the forms and writing system.

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Despite the difficulty of the language, it’s fascinating how professional translators “do the magic” when it comes to documents and websites.

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Maria Krisette Capati

Krisette or "Sette" for short is a professional writer and copywriter who loves to cover disruptive technologies, digital trends in China, and a myriad of geeky and innovative topics. She's the Content Strategist at AZ-Loc and currently manages the English website and in-charge of the social media channels. She has been writing about China markets, business, and startups since 2012. She has gained her expertise as a China internet specialist and is fascinated by its business ethics, language, and culture. She's a major of Business Management and Entrepreneurship and an advocate of faith-based non-profit organizations. When she's not writing or dabbling with Sophie and the team, she satiates her wanderlust as a digital nomad. 

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