26 Apr /12

Chinese language translation: challenges and specifics

chinese language translationSince China has opened its doors to international business by becoming a full member of the World Trade Organization back in 2001, it is considered one of the largest markets in the world. This translates into huge economic and cultural exchange that requires clear communication.

China possesses one of the largest industrial bases in the world and at the same time is the fastest growing consumer market. However, unlike other nations with global markets where English language is predominantly used, Chinese is still very much a dominant business language in China. This has brought barriers to entry for companies looking to do business with Chinese companies.

Mere handling of the behemoth republic has engendered the need for professional Chinese language services. Little wonder that amongst all the translation requirements in the business world, Chinese translation services have grown at exponential rates.

With thousands of distinctive characters called ideographs or pictographs, a complicated alphabetic form, language patterns and dialects, Chinese is considered to be one of the most difficult languages to translate.

The use of characters instead of Roman letters

The Chinese writing system is one of the oldest of its kind. The Chinese writing system uses Chinese symbols known as ideographic characters. Today, Chinese is the only modern language that is entirely based on characters.

Each character represents a word or often a concept and in many cases serves multiple purposes; each Chinese character has one, or more than one, independent meanings.

A Chinese translator has to face this linguistic challenge. Accuracy of Chinese translations depends on context as well as the literal meaning of each written character.

A professional Chinese translator must know the number of syllables each Chinese word has and the corresponding written character each syllable must have. A Chinese translator must also know which character can be used independently or could only be used in a combination with other Chinese characters.

Furthermore, a Chinese translator must have an in-depth knowledge of the 3,000 most commonly used Chinese characters and a good knowledge of the 6,000 Chinese characters that are common for literature and technical writings.

Two character systems: Traditional and Simplified Chinese

Chinese is a complicated language to translate as Chinese speakers use different types of character systems. Mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore use the Simplified Chinese characters, whilst Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan prefer Traditional Chinese characters.

When performing a Chinese language translation, translation services providers must take into account the targeted Chinese speaking audience and define precisely which version is required.

Many dialects

Chinese is a complex and varied language that includes seven main and numerous other recognized dialects.

The various dialects contain unique vocabulary and are generally quite different from each other.

Only a small number of Chinese translators are capable of translating all dialects; in fact, most concentrate on only one or two or in the best case three dialects.

Even when a translator has knowledge in all the Chinese dialects, there are still a number of important grammatical characteristics to be kept in mind when translating from or into Chinese.

For example the Chinese language lacks tonal inflections and doesn’t stress different syllables within each word.  In Chinese language tenses are indicated by adverbs and the context itself, but not by verbs.