10 Common Chinese Translation Particularities to Consider

When you go to translate your documents into Chinese, it’s important to understand the difficulties that exist. As you prepare to have your documents translated, keep in mind the pitfalls and challenges you might face in order to improve your Chinese translations. Doing so will help you arrive at a much higher quality document than simply attempting a literal translation.

10 Common Chinese Translation Particularities to Consider

#1 – Chinese Translation: Chinese Doesn’t Have an Alphabet

English has 26 letters, and those letters are the building blocks of every single word you’ll ever need to write. Not so in Chinese. It’s difficult to know where to start learning Chinese because there is no alphabet, which can make the process of translation and learning very difficult.

#2 – Chinese Translation: Cognates Don’t Exist

One thing that makes Chinese so difficult to translate into is that there aren’t any cognates. Cognates are words that sound like English but are in another language. For instance, horrible (pronounced or-REE-blay) is “horrible” in Spanish. It looks just like the world horrible, and even when it’s spoken it sounds similar. None of those words exist in Chinese, so it’s much more difficult to figure out.

#3 – Chinese Translation: The Sheer Volume of Characters

Forget the fact that characters are nothing like an alphabet. Even if they were, there are way more characters in Chinese than there are letters in English. In fact, Chinese consists of over 3,000 characters.

#4 – Chinese Translation: It’s All About Context

Apple means apple no matter what you’re saying in English. However, a character or combination of characters might mean one thing given a certain context and a completely different thing given a different set of surrounding characters. Meaning changes depending on context, so interpretation can be very tricky.

#5 – Chinese Translation: Location, Location, Location

To make matters even more complex, the variant of Chinese you’ll speak and write depends largely on the location of your audience. In some areas, they read and write in Traditional Chinese, in others Simplified Chinese, and in others, there are even variants customized for a particular location.

#6 – Chinese Translation: There’s Ambiguity Everywhere

Because Chinese is so context-dependent, there’s a lot of ambiguity. It’s difficult to know how to translate anything because so little about the language is consistent between one context and another.

#7 – Chinese Translation: There’s No Tense

Chinese has no tense, and it relies on small characters in order for tense to be understood. In other words past, present, and future tense only exist if certain characters are added.

#8 – Chinese Translation: The Word Ordering is Unique

The order of words in English is completely different than the order of words in Chinese, so even if you were able to literally translate your copy word for word, it would sound ridiculous or have no meaning at all.

#9 – Chinese Translation: The Sheer Complexity of the Language

The language itself is incredibly complex. Even native speakers have a hard time learning to write in Chinese, and the dictionary is so ambiguous that even native speakers have trouble navigating it.

#10 – Chinese Translation: Chinese is Two-Dimensional

Chinese doesn’t just go in one direction when written. It’s two-dimensional, which adds another layer of complexity to it – literally. As you can see, Chinese is an incredibly complex language. It’s important to work with a transcreation service so your translations are accurate and meaningful when published in Chinese.

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